ICBM engine tested at Sohae Space Center
ICBM engine tested at Sohae Space Center Reuters

New commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, North Korea’s main satellite launch facility since 2012, indicates that the North has begun dismantling key facilities, the 38 North website reported on Monday.

Most notably, these include the rail-mounted processing building—where space launch vehicles are assembled before moving them to the launch pad—and the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, according to the website.

Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea.

The move marks an important first step towards fulfilling a commitment made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the June 12 summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Commercial satellite imagery of the launch pad from July 20, published by 38 North, shows that the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure has been moved to the middle of the pad, exposing the underground rail transfer point—one of the few times it has been seen in this location.

The roof and supporting structure have been partially removed and numerous vehicles are present—including a large construction crane. An image from two days later shows the continued presence of the crane and vehicles. Considerable progress has been made in dismantling the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure. One corner has been completely dismantled and the parts can be seen lying on the ground. In both images the two fuel/oxidizer bunkers, main processing building and gantry tower remain untouched.

Imagery of the vertical engine test stand from July 20 shows the presence of a crane and a number of vehicles, the website said. The rail-mounted environmental shelter—which hadn’t been moved since December 2017—has been razed and removed, the older fuel/oxidizer bunkers are in the process of being razed, and portions of the test stand’s upper steel framework have been dismantled and its paneling removed.

During the historic Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last month, the two leaders signed an agreement including a commitment to achieve total denuclearization of Korea, with promises to pursue “vigorous negotiations” to that end.

Subsequent reports suggested that despite its commitment to denuclearize, North Korea has continued to expand infrastructure at nuclear and missile sites.

Last week, Trump voiced confidence that Kim would “honor” his commitment to denuclearize.

“I have confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake. We agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea. China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade-Hope Not!” he tweeted.