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Countdown to the Rocket Launch: Staging of Rocket Proceeding More Slowly than Reported; Winter Weather a New Factor?
Posted By 38 North On December 6, 2012 @ 11:00 pm In Satellite Imagery | 31 Comments
A joint NorthKoreaTech/38 North exclusive, with analysis by Nick Hansen.Summary North Korean preparations for a new rocket launch later this month appear to be proceeding more slowly than previously reported in the press according to analysis of commercial satellite imagery from December 4 and past DPRK test practices. Moreover, since this is Pyongyang’s first attempt to launch a long-range rocket in winter, weather may be a new factor that has already slowed the launch preparations. Contrary to press reports that the three-stage Unha rocket had already been erected at the launch pad by December 5, the North may have had insufficient time to complete that task by then. Satellite imagery showed no activity at the launch pad on December 1. By December 4, work was underway hidden under a dark canvas, however, this was less than the four days Pyongyang needed to erect the Unha-3 rocket before last spring’s test. Moreover, work at the site may have been temporarily halted by snowfall on December 3, further delaying completion of the task. Imagery from December 4 of trailers used to move the rocket stages from the assembly building to the pad shows no tracks in the snow around them or on the road from the assembly building to the pad. Tracks would have been present if the trailers had continued operations. In any case, Pyongyang only has to complete stacking the rocket stages two to three days ahead of time if the April 2012 launch is any guide. This means the task could be completed as late as December 7-8 in order to stay on schedule for a possible test at the beginning of the announced closure period on December 10. The fact that the period for this launch is twelve days—over twice as long as the five days announced in April—may indicate that the North is well aware of the potential pitfalls caused by bad weather and has built flexibility into the launch schedule. Unlikely that Complete Rocket is at the Launch Pad While South Korean press reports on December 5quoted unnamed government officials as stating that the process of erecting the three-stage Unha rocket had been completed, we believe these reports are inaccurate based on satellite imagery and lessons from past North Korean rocket launches. Imagery on December 1 showed no rocket in the gantry, but a GeoEye satellite image from December 4 showed that work platforms, enclosed by a dark canvas hiding what is inside, are now extended over the mobile launch platform. In addition, four small security vehicles, similar to those seen during the stacking of Unha-2 rocket stages prior to the April 2009 test launch are present at the rear of the pad (see figure 1). They are an indicator of movement of rocket stages and payloads to the gantry.
Figure 1. Increased activity at the Sohae launch pad.
Figure 2. First and second stage trailers parked in the motor pool near the missile assembly building.
Figure 3. Only limited tracks around the missile assembly building.
Figure 4. Build up at the instrumentation site.
Figure 5. Bus spotted near the instrumentation site.
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