North Korea rocket engine test hints at looming satellite launch

Recent satellite imagery analysis indicates North Korea conducted a rocket engine test at Sohae Satellite Launching Grounds, evidenced by vegetation die-off caused by intense heat and chemicals.

North Korea has reportedly conducted a rocket engine test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Grounds, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by NK Pro. The analysis suggests that vegetation die-off observed under the vertical engine test stand between April 21 and April 26 was likely caused by intense heat and exposure to chemicals released during a prolonged engine burn.

The satellite imagery from Planet Labs reveals a distinct vegetation die-off pattern beneath the test stand, indicating a potential rocket engine test. The die-off was visible in infrared and true-color high-resolution images captured between April 21 and April 28, while a medium-resolution image showed the die-off had already occurred by April 26.

In November of last year, Pyongyang finally succeeded in placing its Malligyong-1 military reconnaissance satellite into orbit after a series of three attempts. Following this achievement, North Korea announced plans in December to launch three more military satellites into orbit throughout 2024.

Each of the attempts made last year occurred approximately three months apart, suggesting a consistent timeline for future launches if no setbacks occur. Despite recent indications from ROK (Republic of Korea) military authorities suggesting a delay in a planned satellite launch, activity at the launch complex remains notably high.

Noteworthy developments include ongoing construction around the launchpad, indicating continued preparations. The vertical engine test stand, historically utilized for liquid-fuel rocket engines akin to those used in long-range nuclear missiles and satellite carriers, remains active. Additionally, a new horizontal stand was built last year for solid-fuel engines and saw its most recent use in a test conducted in March.