‘Increased activity’ detected at North Korea’s Sohae rocket-launching site

This photo published in the Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, edition of North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper purports to show a successful rocket-engine test attended by leader Kim Jong Un.


By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 11, 2016

“Increased activity” has been spotted at North Korea’s Sohae satellite-launching station, a Washington-based think tank says.

The North claimed late last month to have tested a powerful new rocket engine at the site, raising concerns that Pyongyang is preparing for another long-range launch.

Satellite images taken Oct. 1 show crates on the launch pad next to a gantry tower and vehicles near a newly built fuel/oxidizer bunker, said an analysis by 38 North, a website run by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies that monitors North Korean activities.

But both the tower and assembly structures on the launch pad are covered, making it difficult to predict whether a launch is imminent.

“Environmental covers make it impossible to observe if a space launch vehicle or related components are located at the gantry tower or have been moved into the assembly structures,” Saturday’s report said.

Work is also continuing at the site’s vertical engine-test stand, the think tank said. A “rail-mounted environmental shelter” seen next to the stand indicates ongoing work whose purpose is unclear.

“It may indicate preparations for a new engine test or continued work at the test stand in the aftermath of the September 20 engine test,” said 38 North, which noted that vegetation burned during the test is nearly double that of previous ones.

Sohae, near Tongchang-ri in the communist country’s hilly northwest, was used in February to successfully launch a long-range rocket that the North claimed put a satellite into orbit. Critics said the real purpose was to test ballistic-missile technology banned by the United Nations.

North Korea has defied U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions with two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches this year.

In August, 38 North reported tightened security at Sohae — changes it said could indicate the site might soon be occupied by space-agency scientists, engineers, technicians and the military.

Work is also ramping up at the North’s Punggye-ri underground nuclear test facility. Recent satellite images show “continuing activity” at all three of the complex’s portals, the think tank reported last week.

Action at the north portal, where the country’s fifth and most recent nuclear test took place on Sept. 9, could be for a number of purposes, including “collecting post-test data, sealing the portal or preparing for another test,” the report said.

Twitter: @kiddaaron

This satellite image provided by Airbus Defense and Space and 38 North shows activity at North Korea's Sohae rocket-launching facility, though it's unclear if it's related to an upcoming launch.

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