North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station: Post-Engine Test Activity Observed

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Peter Makowsky and Jack Liu

New commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station from December 15 reveals that the retractable environmental shelter has been pulled back from the engine test stand, perhaps signaling the beginning of post-test refurbishment of the stand. North Korea claims it has conducted two tests at the Sohae facility, on December 7 and 13, although without details or photos to verify what kind of tests took place. Satellite imagery shows evidence that engine tests were likely conducted at the Vertical Engine Test Stand, such as vehicles around the test stand before the tests and vegetation burn around the flame bucket afterwards. The tests were hailed “important” and “crucial” to North Korea’s ballistic missile program—the latter reportedly having had a test duration of seven minutes.

The retractable environmental shelter is dual purposed, as it provides protection to equipment and personnel during test preparations, and it provides concealment from imaging satellites. The shelter has been observed only occasionally pulled back from the test stand.

Figure 1. Overview of Vertical Engine Test Stand with retractable environmental shelter rolled back.

Image © 2019 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0.
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