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Sohae Satellite Launching Station

Last Modified: April 16, 2013
Other Name: 서해 위성 발사장; Seohae Satellite Launching Station; Tongchang-dong Missile and Space Launch Facility; 동창동 미사일 발사기지; Dongchang-ri Launch Site; Dongchang-dong Launch Site; Tongch'ang Launch Site; Pongdong-ri Launch Site; Yunsong Facility[1]
Location: Dongchang-dong (동창동), Cheolsan-gun (철산군), Pyonganbuk-do (평안북도), North Korea
Subordinate To: The facility is likely subordinate to the Second Natural Science Institute (제2자연과학원), Second Economic Committee (제2경제위원회), National Defense Commission (국방위원회); however, a special missile test and evaluation unit probably operates the missile test program.
Size: The facility includes a missile assembly building, launch pad with gantry and mobile launch platform, fuel and oxidizer storage, rocket engine test stand, and an instrumentation stand.
Facility Status: Operational


Sohae Satellite Launching Station, also known as Tongchang-dong Missile and Space Launch Facility in the U.S., is North Korea's newest ballistic missile and space booster range launch site. While construction began in 2001, it was first discussed in open source literature in 2008.[2] Satellite imagery of the completed facility was displayed by GlobalSecurity.org on 10 January 2011.[3]

The site is located in the northwest part of North Korea, close to the border with China. The launch tower is estimated to be approximately 50 meters, and the facility is designed to be a long-range ballistic missile and space booster test facility, also incorporating R&D and support facilities.[4] The height is unnecessary for any of North Korea's Taepodong-2/ Unha (대포동2호/은하) series missiles or space launch vehicles, but it may indicate that North Korea is seeking to develop and launch vehicles on the order of modern-day Chinese ones, such as the Long March-3/-4.[5] Moreover, automated fueling facilities make the fueling process more rapid.[6] Yongbyon Nuclear Complex and Saneum-dong Weapons Research Lab are less than 50 miles away.[7] North Korea probably conducted a long-range rocket engine function test in May-June 2008, and Yonhap reported vehicle activity near the engine test stand again in March 2013.[8]

Joseph Bermudez noted that the discovery of this test site "demonstrates that North Korea remains actively engaged in an ambitious ballistic missile program and is committed to launching satellites into space."[9] It also appears to negate speculation by some that North Korea was either losing interest in missile development (as suggested by the lack of improvements at the smaller and older Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground near Musudan-ri), or outsourcing all research and development to Iran. Also, the new Sohae site has an advantage over the older Donghae one, in that it can launch toward the south, reducing over-flight of Japan and South Korea during the boost phase.[10]

Additionally, this location is obscured by surrounding hills from direct observation by air or sea. "Extreme tidal fluctuations and extensive mud flats" prevent ideal seaborne observation; while the site's geographic position close to the Chinese border make airborne observation by U-2s or Cobra Ball recon aircraft problematic.[11]

The facility was first used to launch an Unha-3 rocket in April 2012, however the rocket failed after reaching an altitude of only 94 miles, and the debris landed off the western coast of South Korea.[12] A second attempt was made in December 2012, this time successfully putting an object into orbit.[13]

Sources:
[1] South Korea’s official Romanization of Sohae is Seohae, and Tongchang is Dongchang, however due to the frequent use of the terms Sohae  and Tongchang in English-language news, NTI uses this spelling.
[2] Kim Gwi-geun, "北 동창리 미사일기지 완공..발사실험하나[North, Completed Dongchnag-ri Missile site… Trying Missile Launch Test?]," Yonhap, 17 February 2011, www.yonhapnews.co.kr; Joseph Bermudez, "Ready for Launch? North Korea's New Missile Facility," Jane's Defense Weekly, 16 September 2008.
[3] "Tongchang-dong Missile and Space Launch Facility: 10 January 2011 Imagery," GlobalSecurity, 10 January 2010, www.globalsecurity.org.
[4] Suhun Ahn, “북, 미사일 동체 동창리 운반, 발사준비 [North, Delivered Missile Body to Dongchang-ri, Ready to Launch],” Yonhap, 25 March 2012, www.yonhapnews.co.kr.
[5] Chico Harlan, "North Korea has completed missile facility, satellite imagery shows," Washington Post, 16 February 2011, www.washingtonpost.com; David Wright, "North Korea's New Launch Site," 38 North, 23 February 2011, http://38north.org; Charles Vick, "The Latest up-date in North Korean Ballistic Missile & Space Booster Developments," GlobalSecurity, 26 January 2009, www.globalsecurity.org.
[6] Suhun Ahn, “북, 미사일 동체 동창리 운반, 발사준비 [North, Delivered Missile Body to Dongchang-ri, Ready to Launch],” Yonhap, 25 March 2012, www.yonhapnews.co.kr.
[7] Kim Gwi-geun, "北 동창리 미사일기지 완공..발사실험하나 [North, Completed Dongchnag-ri Missile site… Trying Missile Launch Test?]," Yonhap, 17 February 2011, www.yonhapnews.co.kr.
[8] Kim Gwi-geun, "北 동창리 미사일기지 완공…발사실험하나 [North, Completed Dongchnag-ri Missile site… Trying Missile Launch Test?]," Yonhap, 17 February 2011, www.yonhapnews.co.kr; Choe Sang-hun, "Global Powers Cast Wary Eye as Korean Tension Escalates," The New York Times, 29 March 2013, www.nytimes.com.
[9] Joseph Bermudez, "Ready for Launch? North Korea's New Missile Facility," Jane's Defense Weekly, 16 September 2008.
[10] David Wright, "North Korea's New Launch Site," 38 North, 23 February 2011, http://38north.org; David Wright, “North Korea’s Launch: Threading the Needle,” All Things Nuclear, 1 April 2012, http://allthingsnuclear.org/post/20309447404/north-koreas-launch-threading-the-needle.
[11] Joseph Bermudez, "Ready for Launch? North Korea's New Missile Facility," Jane's Defense Weekly, 16 September 2008.
[12] Choe Sang-hun and David E. Sanger, "Rocket Failure May Test Leader of North Korea," The New York Times, 14 April 2012, www.nytimes.org.
[13] Chico Harlan, "N. Korea Sends Rocket into Orbit," The Washington Post, 12 December 2012, www.washingtonpost.com.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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