According to a report using commercial satellite photos, construction at North Korea’s satellite launching pad has reached a “new level of urgency,” most likely in preparation for a launch.
North Korea claims to have finished its first military surveillance satellite and that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has cleared final preparations for a launch to send it in orbit, but no date has been announced.
Commercial satellite footage from Monday reveals that work on a new launch pad in a coastal location east of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station is progressing at a “remarkable pace,” according to 38 North, a Washington-based group that monitors North Korea.
“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,” the report said.
The new launch pad appears to feature a rail-mounted assembly structure, a possible mechanism for lifting a rocket into place, lighting towers, and a tunnel for funneling flames away.
If it is meant to service liquid-fueled rockets, additional infrastructure will most likely be needed, the report added.
At Sohae’s main launch pad, crews appear to have completed modifications to the gantry tower, while work continues on a storage for fuel and oxidizer.
A new area for VIPs to observe launches also appears largely completed, 38 North concluded.
Analysts say a military satellite is part of the reclusive, nuclear-armed state’s efforts to advance surveillance technology, including drones, to improve its ability to strike targets in the event of a conflict.
North Korea has tried several times to launch “earth observation” satellites, of which two appeared to have been successfully placed in orbit, including the latest in 2016.
International observers have said the satellite seemed to be under control, but there was lingering debate over whether it had sent any transmissions.