Sohae Satellite Launching Station

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Sohae Satellite Launching Station
North Korea
North Korean Unha-3 rocket at launch pad.jpg
Unha-3 rocket in the site before launch of Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3.
Sohae Satellite Launching Station is located in North Korea
Sohae Satellite Launching Station
Sohae Satellite Launching Station
Type Spaceport
Site information
Site history
Built 1990s (1990s)
Built by North Korea

Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Chosŏn'gŭl: 서해위성발사장; hancha: 西海衛星發射場; MR: Sohae Wisŏng Palsajang, also known as Tongch'ang-dong Space Launch Center and Pongdong-ri) is a rocket launching site in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea. The base is located among hills close to the northern border with China. The spaceport was built on the site of the village Pongdong-ri which was displaced during construction. It was the site for the April 13, 2012 launch of North Korean satellite Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 which was being launched to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung.[1][2] The rocket launch failed, but on December 12 of the same year Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2 was successfully launched and brought into Earth orbit.

The launches were controversial as they were dismissed by the US as tests of ballistic missile technology and hence of breach of an agreement made between North Korea and the USA in February 2012.[3]


Signs of construction were visible during the early 1990s and became more pronounced by the early 2000s. A major progress in the construction was discovered in 2008 by Jane's Information Group, which requested imagery from the satellite company DigitalGlobe. Movements from the Sanum’dong missile research factory with the erector transporter and railroad, road transportation to the space center of a prototype Unha-3 class booster first two stages initially took place over May 29–31, 2009 possibly for logistics testing as well as personnel facilities infrastructure testing training purposes. The results of those tests suggest that military and design specialists ultimately decided to build a facilities access railroad to cut down the 15 kilometer road access logistics issues to the space center.

By early 2011 it was reported that the construction was completed and that it had been under construction for a decade.[4] The first official mention of the site took place in March 2012 when North Korea announced it will launch from that site the satellite Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3. On April 2012, prior to the launch of the satellite, Jang Myong-jin, director of the Sohae, introduced the launching process of the Unha-3 rocket (Korean: 은하-3호, 銀河-3) during a guided media tour.[5][6]

The first launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 on 12 April 2012 failed. On December 1, 2012, the Korean Central News Agency announced that a second version of Kwangmyongsong-3 was to be launched from Sohae between December 10 and December 22, 2012.[7] North Korea declared the launch successful, and the South Korean military and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) reported that initial indications suggested that an object had achieved orbit.[8][9] North Korea had previously claimed the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 and Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 launches successful,[10][11] despite American military sources confirming that they failed to achieve orbit.[12][13]


The spaceport is located on the west coast of North Korea at Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, several kilometers southwest of the village of Tongchang-dong.[1] Three villages, Yongdae-dong, north-east of the site, and Pongdong-ni and Kwi-gol were partially demolished during the construction. The spaceport is about 15 kilometers (over 9 miles) south of the town of Cholsan that has a rail siding and is located at 39°46′15.96″N 124°40′29.04″E / 39.7711000°N 124.6747333°E / 39.7711000; 124.6747333. The entrance to the site is located at 39°40′36.66″N 124°42′43.61″E / 39.6768500°N 124.7121139°E / 39.6768500; 124.7121139 and the launch pad is located at 39°39′36.27″N 124°42′19.06″E / 39.6600750°N 124.7052944°E / 39.6600750; 124.7052944. It might be that the site was chosen due to its obscureness from direct airborne and seaborne observation by nearby hills. The sea approaches are protected by extreme tidal fluctuations and extensive mud flats. While airborne reconnaissance is significantly impacted by the facility’s location at the northern reaches of the Yellow Sea between North Korean and Chinese airspace. A single all-weather road connects the launch facility to a rail-to-road-transfer-point located at the town of Cholsan, over 15 kilometers to the north.


The entire facility occupies over six square kilometers, and consists of a launch site, a static rocket motor test stand, vehicle checkout and processing buildings, a launch control building, a large support area, a complex headquarters building and an entry control point. The site is five times larger than Tonghae Launch Site.[14] The entrance is situated about 2 kilometers from the main launch pad and has an area where visiting vehicles can park.[15] There is much speculation about the functions of different parts of the site [16] but the nuances of satellite photography based guesswork may not be communicated effectively in the mass media.

Western sources identified a building as a "high bay processing facility" which turned out to be the launch control centre when the site was visited by journalists. The building previously identified as the control centre was actually an observation point.[16]

Launch area[edit]

The launch area consists of a 40 metres (130 ft) tall umbilical tower adjacent to rail served movable launch pad measuring 10 by 13 metres (33 by 43 ft). The launch pad sits towards the western end of a large concrete area in which a pair of rails is laid. When a rocket is on the pad it would be sitting next to the tower on the north side. A blast deflector can be seen on the western side of the pad. This takes turns the exhaust gases from a rocket launch through 90 degrees and funnels them out horizontally on to the nearby hillside.[15][17]

Engine test stand[edit]

A static engine test stand is located approximately one kilometer south of the launch pad on the edge of a canyon facing south at 39°39′10.35″N 124°42′50.70″E / 39.6528750°N 124.7140833°E / 39.6528750; 124.7140833. A concrete support pad measures 35 by 50 metres (115 by 164 ft) while the concrete engine test pad measures 15 by 25 metres (49 by 82 ft). The engine test stand is supported by four concrete piers. There is an apparent steel support tower measuring 10 by 10 metres (33 by 33 ft).

The site is supported by a semi-buried fuel and oxidizer building measuring 10 by 15 metres (33 by 49 ft). This is connected to the test pad by a buried conduit running 190 metres (620 ft).


A mobile radar trailer essential for any launch stands at the end of a new dirt road running from the entrance of the site and has a dish antenna that's probably a radar tracking system, according to the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.[18] However it later moved and the same institute say it could also be a satellite communications dish.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "DPRK to Launch Application Satellite". Naenara Times. 17 March 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "Kwangmyongsong-3 Ready to Launch". Korean Committee of Solidarity with the World People. 29 March 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  3. ^ "DPRK’s Satellite Launch Not Contradictory to DPRK-U.S. Agreement — KCNA". Korean Central News Agency. 20 March 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Laurence, Jeremy (17 February 2011). "North Korea completes second missile site". Reuters. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  5. ^ Allen, Emily; Cooper, Rob (10 April 2012). "Fears North Korea are preparing to carry out a new underground nuclear test". Daily Mail. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  6. ^ "Foreign Media Persons and Experts on Space Science and Technology Visit Sohae Satellite Launching Station". Naenara Times. 9 April 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Christy, Robert (1 December 2012). "Kwangmyongsong 3-2 Launch". Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "North Korea reports successful launch of controversial rocket". MSN/NBC. 
  9. ^ "NORAD acknowledges missile launch". North American Aerospace Defense Command. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Encyclopedia Astronautica. "1998.08.31 - Kwangmyŏngsŏng 1". Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  11. ^ "N.Korea says it successfully launched satellite". Reuters. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  12. ^ United States Northern Command. "NORAD and USNORTHCOM monitor North Korean launch". Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  13. ^ "North Korea space launch 'fails'". BBC. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Song Hang-So (11 April 2011). "N. Korea finishes new missile facility: reports". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  15. ^ a b Williams, Martyn (27 March 2012). "Inside Sohae Launch Facility". North Korea Tech. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  16. ^ a b Oberg, James (9 April 2012). "Clues about North Korea's space plans come to light at last". MSNBC. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  17. ^ Williams, Martyn (12 April 2012). "Latest satellite images of Sohae launch facility". North Korea Tech. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  18. ^ Foster Klug (1 April 2012). "Images Show North Korea Launch Work". Time Magazine. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "Is the Rocket on the Sohae Launch Pad? A 38 North Exclusive". 38 North, Johns Hopkins University. 6 April 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012.