News / Asia

New North Korean Space Launch Site Appears Completed

Satellite view of launch site
Satellite view of launch site

New satellite imagery seen by VOA News shows North Korea has completed a launch tower at its second missile launch facility, in the country’s northwest.  Intelligence analysts in the United States and South Korea are keeping a close eye on the facility, near Tongchang-dong.

The site is seen as a critical element in Pyongyang's quest to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon across the Pacific.


The satellite pictures were taken during the past month. Most significantly, the photographs reveal a completed launch umbilical tower at Tongchang-dong.

Tim Brown, an image analyst who is a senior fellow at Global Security.org, says it has taken North Korea about a decade to finish the facility.

"Little by little, they've been getting closer and closer to having an operational site. We can now say, I think confidently, that the launch tower and the launch pad are basically finished," said Brown. "And the question is do they have a launch vehicle that's ready to be launched? And we just don't know."

Photo - DigitalGlobe and Globalsecurity.org


Brown and a colleague first spotted the facility in 2008, when it was still under construction,.  They were the first to publicly reveal it.

Brown says it is a more advanced operation than North Korea’s first launch site, at Musudan-ri, because it has a rocket engine test stand, missile assembly and test buildings, a launch bunker and an observation tower.

"A sophisticated launch site like this is amazing.  Compared to the old site, which was nothing more a place they go when the weather was right to launch their missiles," Brown added. "This is actually a dedicated launch center."

Daniel Pinkston is the senior analyst in Seoul for the International Crisis Group.  He says the facility is a major step in North Korea's quest for an intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike the United States.

"They’re basically inseparable. If you have a space launch capability you can turn that into an ICBM relatively easily, at that point," said Pinkston.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last month that North Korea is within five years will have the capability to strike North America with a missile.

Pyongyang has tested two nuclear weapons and says it has turned some of its stockpile of plutonium into bomb material.  There are concerns that it aims to create a nuclear bomb that can be carried on a missile.

Because the new launch site neighbors China, along the Yellow Sea, it will be difficult for other countries to conduct surveillance of pre-launch testing and actual launches.

North Korea has never publicly referred to the new launch site. That may change as leader Kim Jong Il prepares to turn over the country to his son, Kim Jong Un.

Impoverished North Korea has vowed to become a "strong and prosperous" country by next year. Some regional analysts say part of that campaign could include another attempt to launch a three-stage missile.

Previous attempts have failed.

The last launch, along with a nuclear test in 2009, prompted the United Nations to impose tough new sanctions on Pyongyang.

ICG analyst Pinkston says Pyongyang knows another launch could drive a wedge between the parties to the stalled six-nation talks about its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"I think it’s pretty clear that the Chinese, the Japanese, the U.S., the South Koreans and the Russians, for that matter, are all going to have slightly different views on this. You are going to have different threat perceptions. You’re going to have different ideas on how it should be dealt with," stated Pinkson. "So this really serves into North Korean hands. And, so, I won’t be surprised if it [a launch] happens this year."

Since North Korea already is under strict sanctions, it is not clear what more could be done to punish it, should it attempt another missile launch or nuclear weapons test.

Some analysts say a launch from the new facility might also be intended to pressure Washington into direct talks with Pyongyang, something the North Korean leadership has desired for decades. Washington, however, wants a multilateral approach to North Korea, involving its neighbors.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid