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 Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid