Since late May 2017, North Korea has been constructing a large facility adjacent to the General Satellite Control Centre (GSCC) in Pyongyang. Ground images published by NK Pro appear to confirm that the facility is space-related.

Satellite imagery analysis and previous statements from the DPRK indicate that the facility is likely a space environment test center to ensure that North Korean satellites survive the shock and vibration of launch, followed by the extreme temperatures and electromagnetic interference that occur in outer space.

While this facility is designed to further North Korea’s ability to produce more advanced satellites, it could also be used to develop more survivable nuclear-warheads for its missile systems.

A banner attached to a crane carries the slogan “우주 강국” or “space power” | Photo: NK Pro

Space environment testing base

During his first publicized visit to the GSCC in May 2015, Kim Jong Un directed officials to expand the facility, including constructing what he called a Space Environment Testing Base (우주환경시험기지):

“He said that ultra-cutting-edge facilities should be further supplemented for the General Satellite Control and Command Center; a space environment testing base should be built so that satellite test can be conducted in the exactly same environment as in outer space; and a symbolic structure should be appropriately erected to visually make known it is the satellite control center.”

On November 6, 2016, an official with North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration described the features of a soon-to-be constructed “Space Environment Testing Base” (우주환경시험기지).

The official described a number of laboratories including:

Vibration Test Room – for simulating the vibrations experienced during launch;

Acoustics Laboratory – for simulating the acoustic environment a satellite experiences during the launch process;

Acceleration Laboratory – for testing a satellite’s ability to withstand the extreme gravitational forces experienced during launch;

Electromagnetic Compatibility Laboratory –  to simulate the complex electromagnetic environment in which a satellite has to operate while in space;

Thermal Vacuum Test Room – for thermal vacuum and equilibrium testing;

Space Materials Laboratory – for testing how various materials used in space flight withstand extreme environments and conditions;

Magnetic Field Laboratory –  to study earth’s magnetic field and its effects on satellite operations.

Additional Space Flight and Optical Instrument Test Equipment

Photo: Google Earth

Compare with Iran:

Iran maintains a similar satellite testing center at the Iranian Space Research Center (35.712003, 51.346437). (forewarning –  Iranian websiteImages and videos from the Iranian Space Research Center show similar testing equipment like vacuum chambers, acoustic labs, and an electromagnetic compatibility testing lab.

(Images via  Iranian Space Research Center website: isrc.ac.ir)

Future space launches — and beyond:

With the Sohae satellite launch site’s concealment structures now reassembled, and construction of the Space Environment Testing Base nearing completion, questions on North Korea’s space ambitions are becoming significantly less opaque.

The equipment and tests that this new center will facilitate will not only give North Korea’s space community more data and experience to build “better satellites,” but also give them more insight and access to materials and technology that could be transferred into their IRBM and ICBM reentry vehicle design and production.

Much like a satellite, a missiles reentry vehicle needs to survive the extreme vibration and acoustic forces experienced during launch and operate optimally in the vacuum of space.

Special thanks to Andrea Berger and Jeffrey Lewis for help with research

Edited by Oliver Hotham

Featured image: KCNA