North Korea more than likely tested a long-range rocket engine late last month, according to analysis of new satellite imagery over the site.
In the photos released by 38 North, a blog run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, indicators of a probable test are seen through the presence of a probable rocket stage, propellant tanks, as well as the appearance of burned vegetation around the launch stand.
The photos were taken between August 25 and 30.
“These are not in and of themselves indicators that there is going to be a rocket test six months from now,” Joel Wit, a former North Korea specialist at the State Department who is now with 38 North, told CNN about the photos.
It is not clear from the photos, Wit said, whether the test was for the second stage of the Unha-3 rocket, which North Korea used in a successful launch test last December, or whether it was a test for a stage of another larger rocket.
The Sohae launch facility, where the latest photos were taken, is the same facility from which North Korea has conducted previous rocket launches, including last December’s test.
In recent months, similar satellite imagery has shown what look to be other instances of rocket-engine tests by North Korea, as well as the resumption of production at a previously closed plutonium production site.
North Korea faces a very long list of sanctions for its past provocative behavior that runs from missile launch tests to nuclear tests. Bellicose rhetoric from the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year reached a point where the United States military posture in the Asia Pacific region was adjusted in case hostilities broke out on the divided Korean peninsula.
Those tensions have seemingly simmered in recent months, and a joint industrial park operated by both the North and South recently reopened after the North shuttered it earlier this year.
But analysts like Wit who follow developments in the North say the latest satellite photos show the country is not likely to change it’s approach to missile development any time soon.
“These kinds of activities are continuing despite whatever outward posture they have, and people will have to get realistic about it,” he said.