Sohae Facility Ready to Support Future SLV Launch; Preparations for Engine Testing Identifiedhttp://38north.org/2015/07/sohae072815/
Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates that construction begun in spring 2015 after the earlier modification of the Sohae gantry for space launch vehicles (SLVs) has been completed. It appears that the SLV 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.
Imagery of the Sohae engine test stand also indicates that preparations were underway as of July 21, including the presence of a moveable crane and probable ground support equipment, for an engine test in the near-term. A subsequent unconfirmed Yonhap report on July 24 stated that a test had taken place.
Construction of a shelter covering the Sohae rail spur where SLV stages and associated equipment are delivered from offsite has also been completed. The shelter would prevent the observation of rail activity at this location, and make it more difficult to observe the arrival of missile-related railcars and shipping containers by satellite imagery.
Despite these developments and statements by the ROK Ministry of Defense that Pyongyang is likely to conduct a “strategic provocation” around the time of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, there are still no indications at Sohae that test preparations are underway to support a long-range SLV launch. There is also no public evidence to suggest that a decision has been made by the leadership in Pyongyang to move forward with a launch.
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, the filling of oxidizer and fuel storage tanks associated with the launch pad, activity at range radars intended to track a launch and possibly the arrival of VIPs to observe a launch.
In this image, the red band indicates healthy vegetation. Had an engine test occurred, the vegetation around the flame trench would be scorched.