Satellite Photos show North Korea Has Begun Dismantling Rocket Test Site
Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, located in Dongchang Village, Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province (Photo: Google Earth)

Images published on Monday by the monitoring group 38 North, which provides analysis of events in and around North Korea, indicate North Korea has begun dismantling key facilities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

The organisation notes that an analysis of the commercial satellite imagery captured between July 20 and July 22 shows that North Korea has started disassembling parts of its main satellite launch station -- a site that is believed by the U.S. to have played an important role in the development of Pyongyang's intercontinental ballistic missile programme. North Korea has maintained that Sohae is a satellite test site.

Signs of construction for a West Sea satellite launch site were observed during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and construction was completed in 2009. In Apr. 2012, North Korea invited over 80 members of the foreign press to a launch event there for the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite to mark the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth. The launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite in Feb. 2016 also took place there.

38 North says the facilities dismantled include the rail-mounted processing building—where space launch vehicles are prepared 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.

The organisation also notes the dismantling of this test site hints "an important first step towards fulfilling a commitment" made by Kim Jong Un during his summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore.

The photos also show the roof and supporting structure of the test site facility 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. 38 North concludes that given the state of activity, work is likely to have begun sometime within the past two weeks.

During a landmark meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore last month, the two leaders signed a deal to work towards the "complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula". However, consequent meetings between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high ranking officials had not gone done very well.

After the most recent meeting earlier this month, North Korea had said the talks were "regrettable" and accused Washington of a "unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearisation".