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Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground

  • Location
    Musudan-ri (무수단리), Hwadae-kun (화대군), North Hamgyong Province (함경북도), North Korea
  • Type
  • Facility Status
    Operational; second launch pad under construction

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The Tonghae Satellite Launch Ground, also known by “Musudan-ri” due to its proximity to the area, is one of North Korea’s major rocket test-launch facilities and has been used to flight-test a variety of missiles and satellite launch vehicles. Since becoming operational, the site has flight-tested the Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6, Nodong, Taepodong‐1 and Taepodong-2 missiles. The most recent tests occurred in May 2009 hours after North Korea’s second nuclear test when three short-range surface-to-air missiles were launched from the site. 1


Construction began around 1982 or 1983, and North Korean defector Im Yeong Seon (임영선) believes construction of the launch pad was completed in 1985. 2 However, Jane’s asserts that the facility was operational and began conducting test launches as early as 1984. 3

North Korea uses the Tonghae Satellite Launch Ground for testing long-range rockets. In 1998, North Korea attempted to launch the Kwangmyongsong-1 satellite into orbit using a Taepodong-1 from the Tonghae site. The 3rd stage of the rocket failed, however North Korea still claimed that the satellite went into orbit. 4 North Korea launched Taepodong-2 rockets in 2006 and 2009, also resulting in failures. 5

Expansions and Repairs

Tonghae Satellite Launch Ground’s infrastructure has been updated numerous times over the last two decades. The first major expansion was completed in 1999, when the launch tower’s height was expanded from ~22 meters to ~33 meters. 6 In 2008, satellite imagery revealed that the missile assembly building was extended by 28 meters. These images also showed that the access road leading to the missile assembly building was expanded. These expansions resulted in the facility being capable of simultaneously storing two Taepodong-2 launch vehicles. The expansions will also “allow for the assembly of larger missile systems.” 7 In 2009, Digital Globe, a private US-based space imagery firm, released images of the site which revealed a missile assembly building, launch tower, and a rocket engine testing stand. The imagery also revealed the absence of paved roads leading to the facility as well as a lack of personnel housing. 8

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, numerous rocket engine tests for the Taepodong-2 were conducted at Tonghae Satellite Launch Ground. 9 In 2002, a mysterious explosion occurred during a rocket engine test. The explosion damaged both equipment and the facility’s physical infrastructure. 10 The site has since been repaired.

New Construction

Construction on a new launching pad due east of the Tonghae Satellite Launch Ground’s original launch pad began the summer of 2011. Local housing in the area has also been demolished to lay the foundations of support structures for the new launching complex. One of these foundations could be a horizontal rocket assembly building with nearly two times the floor space of other North Korean rocket assembly buildings, indicating that the new launch complex may be used to launch rockets of a larger size than the Unha launch vehicle. Construction in the area also includes a new launch control building, new bridges, improved dirt roads, and additional housing. 11

The new construction was suspended during 2013-14 and the facility has remained in caretaker status since then, as of 2019. Thus, Sohae Satellite Launching Station, the site of the December 2012 Unha launch, will likely remain the primary site for long-range ballistic missile launches in the near-term.12


Space Launch Vehicle (SLV)
A rocket used to carry a payload, such as a satellite, from Earth into outer space. SLVs are of proliferation concern because their development requires a sophisticated understanding of many of the same technologies used in the development of long-range ballistic missiles (e.g., propulsion, guidance and control, staging, and structures). Some states (e.g., Iran), may have developed SLV programs in order to augment their ballistic missile capabilities.


  1. “DPRK Test‐Fires Short‐Range Missile After Nuclear Test,” Xinhua, 25 May 2009, via: www.lexisnexis.com.
  2. Interview with North Korean defector Im Yeong Seon by Daniel A. Pinkston, senior research associate, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 14 December 2001, Seoul.
  3. “Tonghae (Musudan-ri),” Jane’s Space Systems and Industry, 21 December 2012.
  4. Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “Going Ballistic - North Korea's Advanced Missile Capabilities,” Jane's Intelligence Review, 12 March 2009.
  5. “U.S. officials: North Korea Tests Long-Range Missile,” CNN, 4 July 2006, http://articles.cnn.com; William J. Broad, “North Korean Missile Launch Was a Failure, Experts Say,” The New York Times, 5 April 2009, www.nytimes.com.
  6. Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “North Korea's Musudan-ri Launch Facility,” Center for Defense and International Security Studies, 1999, www.cdiss.org.
  7. “Musudan-ri Missile Test Facility North Korea: 15 February 2002 – 26 March 2009,” GlobalSecurity.org.
  8. “Musudan-ri Missile Test Facility North Korea: 15 February 2002 – 26 March 2009,” GlobalSecurity.org.
  9. Pak Tu-sik and Yu Yong-won, “박두식, 유영원, "미, 북 미사일 감시제제로, US Turned on Missile Monitoring System,” Chosun Ilbo, 6 February 2002, www.kinds.or.kr.
  10. “Explosion Hit North Korea Missile Test Site: Report,” Agence France-Presse, 21 April 2003, via: www.lexis‐nexis.com.
  11. Nick Hansen, “New Developments at the Tonghae Rocket Test Site,” 38 North, 14 February 2013, www.38north.org; Nick Hansen, “Construction Halted at New North Korean Missile Launch Pad; Old Site Refurbished in Preparation for Future Launches,” 38 North, 24 September 2012, www.38north.org.
  12. Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha, “December 2019 Update: Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, December 17, 2019, beyondparallel.csis.org.


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