Sohae Satellite Launch Facility: No Signs of Satellite Launch or Engine Test Preparations

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu and Jenny Town

Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station indicates that, while the facility is being maintained, there are no observable signs of preparations for either a rocket launch or engine test.

Imagery from December 23 shows efforts to clear snow off the roads leading to all the major facilities. The most progress has been made on the road from the Vertical Engine Test Stand to the VIP Observation Facility, with only two short segments remaining. The test stand itself is still snow covered.

Figure 1. Road cleared of snow from Vertical Engine Test Stand to the VIP Observation Facility, December 23, 2019.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Snow removal has begun around the Main Processing Building on the launch pad but has made limited progress.

Figure 2. Snow removal is visible at launch pad, December 23, 2019.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

In addition to roads, entrance ways, parking lots and courtyards have been cleared including at the administration and security headquarters area, the Horizontal Assembly Building, the NADA administration and launch control building, the VIP housing area, the VIP Observation Facility, and the housing and support area. The snow-clearing pattern suggests these facilities are staffed since the pattern often begins from the building entrances.

Figure 3. Snow removal is visible at various sites around Sohae, December 23, 2019.

Figure 3A. Snow removal visible at the administration and security headquarters area. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 3B. Snow removal visible at the horizontal assembly building. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 3C. Partial snow removal visible at the NADA facility. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 3D. Snow removal visible at the VIP housing area. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 3E. Partial snow removal visible at the VIP Observation Facility. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 3F. Snow removal visible at the housing and support area. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]

Imagery from January 14 also shows little other activity. What appears to be a small truck or vehicle is present at the engine test stand’s security checkpoint. There is a convoy of four small trucks on the road outside of the security checkpoint, possibly leaving the facility. The purpose of these vehicles is unclear.

Figure 4. Vehicle activity at Vertical Engine Test Stand’s (VETS) security checkpoint and leaving Sohae, January 14, 2020.

Figure 4A. Four small trucks leaving Sohae facility, January 14, 2020. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
Figure 4B. Probable small truck visible at VETS security area, January 14, 2020. Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact [email protected]
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