Recent satellite images indicate that North Korea has completed the construction of the country’s main satellite launch site, which could be used to launch a long-range rocket to coincide a major political event in October. Analyzing the images, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said Tuesday that the construction, which started in spring 2015 at the Sohae launch center, has been concluded.
The analysis, which was posted on the institute’s 38 North website, supports claims by South Korean officials that the North has completed upgrading the facility, and is preparing for a long-range rocket launch to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party on Oct. 10. The looming rocket launch is considered by many as a disguised ballistic missile test, which could lead to further sanctions against Pyongyang, and increase military tensions on the Korean peninsula, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
“It appears that the SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle) stages and payload can be prepared horizontally in a new launch support building at the end of the pad, then transferred to a movable support structure that is several stories high, where they will be erected vertically, checked out and finally moved to the launch tower,” 38 North said in the report.
Although North Korea has not officially confirmed any rocket launch, its Ambassador to the United Nations Jang Il-Hun said Tuesday that he could not “rule out the possibility” of an October test to coincide a “grand” celebration, AFP reported.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency also reported last week that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had personally ordered a satellite launch to mark the anniversary. The report also said that a 50 meter tall (164 feet) launch pad in Dongchang-ri, or the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, was extended to 67 meters (219 feet).
The United Nations Security Council currently bans North Korea from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology. The 38 North report also mentioned a note of caution that the satellite imagery did not reveal any signs of preparations to launch a long-range rocket or missile from the facility.
“In the coming weeks, if preparations are indeed underway, we would expect to see other on-the ground indications at Sohae including increased rail activity and the possible arrival of missile related railcars, activity at facilities associated with rocket assembly,” 38 North said.