Sohae Satellite Launching Station: Busy Morning Post-launch

Commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station shows a significant level of activity on the main launch pad hours after North Korea attempted to put its first military reconnaissance satellite into space.

The launch failed, according to North Korea’s state-run news agency. It said the Chollima-1 rocket fell into the sea “after losing thrust due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine.” Initial investigation is centered around “the low reliability and stability” of the new rocket engine and “the unstable character of the fuel used.” The National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) said it would try for a second launch as soon as possible.

A May 31 image was captured at 10:39 local time (0139 UTC May 31), about four hours after the launch at 06:24 local time (2124 UTC, May 30). The image captured only the main launch pad and not the new coastal launch pad that has been under construction over the last few weeks. As such, which pad was used for the launch cannot yet be confirmed. However, activity at the main launch pad is consistent with post-launch assessment and clean-up efforts.

Main Launch Pad

Compared to a day earlier, there are over a dozen vehicles on the pad, including what appear to be cars and buses. The nature of the work remains unclear, although their presence would be consistent with post-launch assessment of the launch and potential clean-up activities. Most of these vehicles are neatly parked along the south side of the launch pad.

The rail-mounted, mobile transfer structure remains positioned next to the gantry tower, and the gantry arms are in the closed position. The cab-over truck with a long, cylindrical trailer remains close to the gantry tower, suggesting its content was possibly rocket fuel, as the launch pad’s fuel and oxidizer storage facilities remain under construction.

Figure 1. Close up of main satellite launch pad. Image © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

Horizontal Assembly Building

Near the Horizontal Assembly Building, three railcars remain in the same position as yesterday. Those railcars include one that is 23 meters in length. It is thought to be related to the movement of rocket body components.

No other major vehicle activity is observed within the complex or at the helipad, where VIPs might be expected to arrive and depart, although any departures would have likely taken place long before this image was captured.

Figure 2. Close up of Horizontal Assembly Building. Image © 2023 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].
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