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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid