Work Suspended At North Korean Missile Launch Pad: Report

on September 25 2012 5:44 AM
Unha-2 Rocket 2009
Imagery released in 2009 by North Korea of its second satellite launch on the Unha-2 rocket. The Unha-3 rocket is larger and more advanced. Both previous satellite launch attempts have failed. KCNA

An analysis of new satellite imagery shows that North Korea has halted work at a new launch pad intended to conduct future tests of larger and liquid-fueled rockets, possibly with intercontinental ranges, according to a U.S.-based research institute.

The commercial satellite images taken Aug. 29 also show that Pyongyang has stopped construction of fuel and oxidizer buildings designed to support future tests near the new pad, 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said in a report.

According to the report, the exact cause for the suspension of work was unclear. Though North Korea witnessed heavy rains recently, there has been no visible flooding at the facility, the report has said. However, heavy rains may have contributed to the construction halt since the access to the site is limited to a "heavily rutted dirt trail." The construction equipment is also likely to have been moved to other areas of the country to help deal with flood damage, the report has speculated.

“The slowdown, barring concerted North Korean efforts to make up for lost time, could result in a 1-2 year slip in the planned completion date of the new complex, which was originally estimated to be around the middle of this decade,” the institute said.

Though work is suspended at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground, or Musudan-ri, North Korea has the option of testing longer-range rockets at the newer Sohae Satellite Launching Station in the northeast. The report suggests a “probable refurbishment” of the Unha mobile launch stand that was used to test the long-range missiles in the past.

Pyongyang’s attempt to launch Unha-3 rocket in April, as part of a celebration to mark the 100th birthday of the nation’s founder Kim Il-Sung, failed after only about 100 seconds of powered flight.

An analysis of the satellite imagery of North Korea’s nuclear test site, published mid-May by 38 North, appeared to show the construction of a nuclear reactor that could be used to revive the country's nuclear weapons program.

In a statement released June 10, Pyongyang dismissed the widespread speculation that North Korea was nearing completion of the preparations to test a nuclear device for the third time, after two failed attempts in 2006 and 2009, and lashed out at South Korea for trying to rattle the nerves of the DPRK (North Korea) in a bid to cause it to conduct a nuclear test.

The analysis of the satellite imagery, captured April 30, showed that Pyongyang had resumed work on its new experimental light water reactor, which the DPRK said was intended to meet domestic energy needs, but was also an important component in its effort to build nuclear weapons.

South Korean intelligence, in a report early April, said that the North was digging a new tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear site, which was interpreted as a sign of a covert nuclear weapons program.

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