North Korea Appears Nearly Done Building Big Missile Structure

North Korea's Unha 3 space rocket lifts off in December 2012, in an image released by official state media. Recent satellite images of the country's Dochang-ri missile site indicate work is almost finished on a tower big enough to handle rockets larger than the one Pyongyang successfully launched into space more than a year ago.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Feb. 6, 2014, 9:52 a.m.

North Korea ap­pears to be al­most done build­ing a launch tower tall enough to handle fir­ing rock­ets even lar­ger than one suc­cess­fully launched in 2012.

The con­struc­tion pro­gress could have im­plic­a­tions for the isol­ated na­tion’s abil­ity to test po­ten­tial long-range mis­siles cap­able of car­ry­ing nuc­le­ar pay­loads, though North Korea is not known to have mastered the tech­no­logy to do so.

“Re­cent com­mer­cial satel­lite im­agery in­dic­ates that North Korea is near­ing com­ple­tion of modi­fic­a­tions to the gantry at the launch pad of the So­hae Satel­lite Launch­ing Sta­tion,” said im­age ex­pert Nick Hansen in a Thursday ana­lys­is pos­ted on the spe­cial­ist web­site “38 North.” So­hae is also known as the Dongchang-ri mis­sile launch com­plex.

An 11th level can now be seen in the im­ages, which gives the tower enough height to al­low fir­ing rock­ets as tall as 50 meters, which would be nearly 70 per­cent longer than the space rock­et North Korea suc­cess­fully launched in Decem­ber 2012, ac­cord­ing to Hansen.

He pro­jec­ted the al­ter­a­tions to the Dongchang-ri launch plat­form could be wrapped up next month or in April if con­struc­tion con­tin­ues apace.

“The pad will then be avail­able for ad­di­tion­al launches, prob­ably of the Unha 3 rock­et or a slightly longer vari­ant, such as the Unha 9, which was first dis­played as a mod­el in 2012,” he wrote.

While North Korea claims its past launches of the Unha 3 space vehicle have been peace­ful, much of the world views them as a likely cov­er for tests of in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­siles.

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