Sohae Satellite Launching Station: New Activity at the Coastal Launch Pad

Commercial satellite imagery shows an expanse of blue material on North Korea’s coastal launch pad at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the site used to conduct the last three satellite launch attempts.

The material currently forms a “Y” shape and covers a 125-meter stretch of tarmac from just outside the entrance of the launch pad to the retractable shelter. The haphazard way it is laid out and the way it overlaps suggests it is a covering, possibly tarpaulin, not paint. Each segment of the material appears to be 47 meters long.

Imagery from March 1 through March 12 reveals the same blue material placed along each side of the retractable shelter, also in 47-meter-long segments. These segments, however, have since been removed.

This similar blue material has been seen throughout the site—notably, covering materials at the southern seaport, wrapping tanks seen near the original Horizontal Assembly Building, and over the strongback launching mechanism housed under the coastal launch pad’s retractable shelter. However, this is the first time the material has been observed laying paths on the ground in this manner. The exact nature of the material or its purpose around the launch pad is unclear. Regardless, the pad likely remains ready to use when needed.

Figure 1. Blue materials laid in a “Y” shape on coastal launch pad observed on imagery from March 23, 2024. Satellite image © 2023 Maxar Technologies. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].
Figure 2. Blue material laid along either side of retractable shelter at coastal launch pad observed on imagery from March 12, 2024. Image © 2024 Planet Labs, PBC cc-by-nc-sa 4.0. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

In his address to the Korean Workers’ Party plenum in late December, Kim Jong Un outlined plans to launch three additional military surveillance satellites into orbit in 2024. State media has not disclosed any subsequent details, and no impact exclusion zones or launch windows have been announced yet, as North Korea has done ahead of previous launches.  

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