Commercial satellite imagery indicates progress on the new launch pad in the coastal area east of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station is moving forward at a remarkable pace. A rail-mounted mobile assembly structure has been installed between May 16 and 23, which will help protect potential heavy-load satellite launch vehicles (SLVs) before loading into a lifting mechanism.
While the key components of the Sohae complex have been undergoing modernization and expansion over the past year, this uptick in activity suggests a new level of urgency in making the site ready to accommodate satellite launches.
New Coastal Launch Pad
First observed under construction on April 30, the pad went from simple foundations to a completed concrete pad in just four days. By May 16, a set of paired rails had been installed that appeared to be for a mobile assembly structure for rocket stage preparation. Imagery from May 22 confirmed that conclusion, with significant progress having been made on this structure. While the construction activity beneath the roof trusses was too busy to determine specific details, it appeared some flooring was added as well. One day later, imagery showed the paneling was emplaced, which could be for the exterior of the building
Additionally, two large lattice towers have been erected on either side of the pad, and four smaller lattice towers—also straddling the pad, two to a side—have been completed. The two larger towers appear to be lightning arrestors, and the four smaller towers appear to be each fitted with a bank of lights. The lightning arrestors are to protect the SLV’s electrical systems and payload from a lightning strike or prevent an explosion should the rocket’s fuel be ignited. What is a probable rocket body lift mechanism is centrally located on the pad with a mobile crane next to it.
If this pad is meant to service liquid-fueled rockets, additional infrastructure is likely needed.
New VIP Observation Area
The new VIP launch observation area also appears largely completed. Since May 16, additional plantings have been brought in, with dense bushes surrounding the open field, from which launches from the new pad will be viewed. The possible screening or banner-like wall, present on May 16, has been removed, and the new road leading to the location remains unfinished.
Main Satellite Launch Pad
At the main satellite launch pad, the modified gantry tower now appears complete. The older, smaller cantilever crane arm has been removed from the gantry tower and replaced with a larger version. The old crane arm has been moved to the top of the new tower. Previously, the new, larger crane arm was used to remove the old crane from the gantry tower so that the crane positions could be exchanged, suggesting both will be permanent fixtures to the tower to aid in loading future rockets and their payloads.
In addition, the rail-mounted transfer structure has also been moved back to its normal position, which covers the rail transfer opening in the pad and aligns with the final assembly building. This move suggests that its modifications are approaching completion.
The fuel and oxidizer storage facility remains under construction, with seven oxidizer tanks now located within the confines of the building’s foundation. This building, when complete, will likely again be covered.
Or potentially for intercontinental ballistic missile testing as well.