On September 20, KCNA reported on Kim Jong Un guiding a “ground jet test of a new type of high-power engine of a carrier rocket for the geo-stationary satellite” from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. This test was “aimed to make a final confirmation of the feature of combustion chamber, operation accuracy of valves and control systems and structural reliability of the engine during 200 seconds-long working time.”
Commercial satellite imagery from September 17 showed preparations for this new engine test, including the presence of a heavy lift crane on the Vertical Engine Test Stand, positioning of the rail-mounted environmental shelter mid-way up the approach ramp and several vehicles at the VIP observation area.
This test represents an anticipated and significant step in the continued development of larger, more advanced space launch vehicles.
Vertical Engine Test Stand
Commercial satellite imagery collected on September 17 shows a number activities related to engine test preparations. A heavy-lift crane is positioned immediately adjacent to the Vertical Engine Test Stand, and the rail-mounted environmental shelter, which holds the engine stage, was positioned mid-way up the approach ramp.
Figure 1. Engine test preparations seen in days before test.
From what we know of previous tests the likely sequence of events was: a) the engine was delivered to the environmental shelter on the work apron; b) the heavy lift crane was positioned next to the test stand; c) after receiving an initial delivery checks, the environmental shelter and engine were moved onto the apron; d) under cover of darkness or clouds the engine was lifted by the crane and positioned within the test stand; and e) final checks of the engine were conducted, it was fueled and tested.
Additional test related activities included ground scarring immediately west of the test stand that was likely for placement of instruments or cameras, and the presence of two small vehicles at the VIP observation facility on the hill above the test stand. It was from here that Kim Jong Un observed the April 2016 test. There were also a small vehicle and what appears to be a small bus or van at the VIP housing area.
Figure 2. Two small vehicles at the VIP observation facility.
Figure 3. Vehicles parked at the VIP housing area.