The commercial images, taken on February 22 by imaging company DigitalGlobe, reveal an uptick in activity at a facility in Sanumdong, a suburb of the capital Pyongyang. North Korea has previously assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite-launching rockets at Sanumdong.
The release of the images follows an assessment by respected North Korea monitoring website 38 North
that the Sohae satellite launch facility, which had been partially disassembled as part of disarmament steps, is now back to normal operational status after a flurry of restoration work in recent weeks — work that appears to have picked up after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump’s failed summit in Hanoi on February 28.
“We’re seeing a lot of vehicle activity at the Sanumdong facility and also at the rail transfer point where it would be loaded and taken to Sohae,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who has studied the new images.
“I think the evidence points to a satellite launch, and not just the evidence at Sanumdong, but also the evidence from Sohae.”
Satellite launches use similar technology as ballistic missiles, and experts have long maintained that North Korea’s attempts to shoot satellites into space could help them develop viable long-range ballistic missiles.
Lewis cautioned that it is impossible to know whether the North Koreans are preparing a military missile or a space rocket. It is also possible that the activity was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of US spy satellites.