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The Latest up-date in North Korean Ballistic Missile & Space Booster Developments

© By Charles P. Vick (All Rights Reserved)

Senior Technical Analyst,

09-10-18 / 01-26-2009

Disclaimer The opinions and evaluations stated here in are only the authors and cannot be construed to reflect those of any Government agency, company, institute or association. It is based on public information, circumstantial evidence, informed speculation, declassified U.S. intelligence community documents, official Iranian and North Korean government documents and histories, oral histories, interviews and reverse engineering analysis. As with all data regarding the Iranian and North Korean strategic space and ballistic missile programs, this analysis is subject to revision--and represents a work in progress. It reflects the total open source analysis process and previous studies using the same information analysis process.

North Korea Believed to Have in Hand ICBM Capability

U. S intelligence has suggested that North Korea could export ICBM technology and or hardware to Iran in 2009. This has confirmed the indication that North Korea has ICBM capability in hand but not fully demonstrated. This is according to Admiral Timothy Keating, Chief of U. S Pacific Command as reported in the Middle East Newsline. It is assumed that that ICBM or satellite launch capability may once again be tested in 2009. (30)

Potential North Korean Connection in Iran

It is to understand is that the upper stages of the Ghadr-110/110A, Samen/Sejjil/Ashura could in fact become the second, third and fourth stages of the Taep'o-dong-2C/3 in place of the known No-dong-B second stage and solid motor third stage if the design revision that was suggested recently by South Korean Intelligence is correct. Iran is known to have participated in the Taep'o-dong-2C/3 development. North Korea is expected to flight test one or two Teap'o-dong-2 class missile either as a satellite launcher attempt or a ballistic missile flight or both in the spring or summer of 2009. Iran is further expected to attempt a satellite launch any time between November 2008 and the end of March 2009 as the State plan requires to be accomplished.

The Latest North Korean, Iran ballistic missile space booster developments

Iran is basically equal or in many cases ahead of North Korea in these booster developments that serve both the ballistic missile program as well as the space booster development for both nations cooperative efforts. The coming released of the article in Jane’s developed by Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. senior analyst with Jane's Information Group, Jane's Defense Weekly and Tim Brown with a private satellite imagery analysis company reflected the long observed developments seen in the Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch’ang-dong, North Korea’s new ballistic missile and space booster range launch site does confirm and reflect the advanced nature of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 design evolutionary development program. The launch site along with one other site not yet imaged was initially known about as early as 2006 by C. P. Vick of but he was unable to pursue it. This is based on the No-dong-B, 4,000 km range IRBM that is deployed both in North Korea and Iran. The No-dong-B serves as the technological base of this new design Taep'o-dong-2 class booster. It also utilizes the same propulsion technology in the clustered engines of its first stage. The Taep’o-dong-2 class space booster ballistic missile has evolved over more than a decade and a half (1991-(1994 when it was first imaged)-2008) into several design renditions illustrated here in that has finally been refined to its present advanced high performance design. This new facility is designed to provide North Korea with a very long range ballistic missile and space booster test range, research and development facility that clear all the surrounding foreign countries crossings that was of such great controversy in the recent historic past flight of the Taep’o-dong-1. Launches from the North western corner of North Korea near the Chinese border will probable hug and fly parallel to the western edge of the Korean peninsula. Presently as the soft satellite launch facility is configured it does not provide for fast turn around processing of launches but perhaps it could accommodate six launches a year. Like it counter part facility at Musudan-Ri the Tongch’ang-dong/Dongchang-ni site has a much larger and longer launch vehicle gantry umbilical tower than required for the present Taep'o-don2C/3 three stage satellite launch vehicle. It offers on both sites the potential of growth design launch vehicles presently envisioned in the latest design rendition of the Taep'o-dong-2C/3. The imagery does show on going infrastructure construction detailing. There is at present no substantiating evidence that there will be a vertical assembly building for rapid launch vehicle processing put in place at the present time as seen in China manned space launch center. It does however seem to indicate a potential second launch pad at the other end of the launch facility.

The facilities have apparently been closely observed over many years by unmanned stealthy UAV's in addition to other U.S. space national security assets. A recent pronouncement by North Korea that it could launch a second satellite at any time it chooses is not an empty threat that dove tails the belief that the flight test is in fact over due. The failure of the Taep’o-dong-2 class booster in 2006 was not believed to have been that bad of a failure that could not have been rectified thanks to recent ground testing.

Static Test Firing Reports

The reports divulging the North Korean multiple static test firing that took place during the May, June 2008 time period was not unexpected among many conducted since the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 launch failure of July 5, 2006. These vertical test firings of the associated Taep’o-dong-2C/3 first stage four main engines and four steering vernier engines cluster had been assumed all along. This was to address the obvious steering control guidance related issues that developed during it first 35-42 seconds of flight from lift off through its subsequent catastrophic disassembly. A spring 2008 review of the up to date information suggested the possibility that the first stage vernier’s of the evolved present Taep'o-dong-2C/3 design shook the flight vehicle from side to side because they were not coordinated with one another precipitating the shroud separation under dynamic pressure exceeding its side loading design limits. This also caused the second stage premature separation structural failure. The evolved design indicated for Taep’o-dong-2C/3 is much more sophisticated than the original design first seen in 1994 in US imagery. Quite literally the North Koreans redesigned the booster from about 2001 through to its flight test in 2006 outside of the normal five year plan cycle. It is apparent that several renditions went through the design study analysis process before the more advanced design was focused on. This was in spite of the initial design appearing on the launch pad for months in the early 2000-2003 period for ground testing that did not go well as expected. Thus the May, June 2008 test comments on engine guidance testing issues coordination was presumably seen in the information acquired from the process.

Next Flight Test to Orbit

These test firings should be assumed as a prelude to a second flight test of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 probably scheduled for the summer of 2009. They are expected to attempt a launch of a polar orbit satellite with that launch from this over 80% completed launch infrastructure. Though these test firings are a technical violation of the 2007 UN resolution this has been no hindrance to the North Korean’s up to the present.

Liquid propellant series of North Korea & Iran

The Launch site Confirmation of the Newer Technology

The new Tongch'ang-dong, North Korea's ballistic missile space booster launch site has allowed for the confirmation that the No-dong-B Mirim is not merely the IRBM known and deployed in both North Korea and Iran but much more. It literally confirms as suspected that the No-dong-B will serve as the second stage of the Taep'o-dong-2C/3 second stage but is also suspected to be the basis of it first stage propulsion design with an added active attitude control solid motor third stage for satellite launches or ICBM full range flight testing capacity.

“Battleship”, Systems Static Test Firing Test Stand Models

This is recognized because of close study of the rocket stage "Battleship", systems test, static test firing test stand models for the No-dong-A, No-dong-B and Taep'o-dong-2C/3 class rocket stages Shahid Hemmat test facilities east south east of Tehran, Iran. They seem to have confirmed this reality both in Iran and North Korea in duplicate near identical test stands. It also confirms the extent of the total technological support cooperation between the two nation's missile development programs. The total industrial development around this launch sites industrial infrastructure makes the Musudan-Ri site look minuscule by comparison both in it size and scope. To a large degree the Musudan-Ri site has the appearance of having been abandoned with the foliage allowed to grow out of control on the installations while construction continues on the newer more modern Tongch'ang-dong infrastructure.

This widely spread out mountain side extensive facilities features infrastructure warehouse support areas with administrative buildings, a greatly enlarged horizontal assembly MIK booster payload missile processing building, payload support, none destructive testing explosive arming building groups, several general facility infrastructure support areas and possible personnel housing in addition to the launch site and “Battleship”, systems test, static test firing test stand for the booster’s first stage with its horizontal flame deflector. Much more extensive external to the facility infrastructure personnel housing are apparently located within local towns and villages. Extensive range support for tracking radar and telemetry reception is not as apparent from the available information at this time.

Equally it helps confirm how the larger widely scattered total Iranian missile industry industrial base to be far larger than previously accepted that is much more economically predominant over that of North Korea's. An example of this is that North Korea is apparently not pursuing the extensive solid propellant program that Iran has in development based on what information is available and how very dependent North Korea is on Iran support economically thanks to higher oil pricing that Iran is pursuing.

With North Korea’s temporary withdrawal from the denuclearization understanding and reverting back to its old self more revelations on what is going on in it nuclear weapon’s and missile programs has been revealed . Not merely was the Tongch’and-dong or Dongchong-ri or Pongdong-ri site revealed for its ICBM range and polar orbit satellite capability it also helped confirm the totally redesign of the Taep’o-dong-2 to what is called the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 high performance configuration design. That is the three stage booster is not any longer based on the No-dong-A but is now based on the 4,000 kilometer range No-dong-B deployed missile system. Giving the two stage ICBM a range of (6,200 Miles) 9,975.8 kilometers and the three stage version a range of (9,300 miles) 14,963.7 kilometers with a 200-250 kg warhead.

North Korean Nuclear Warheads

Recently the retired National Intelligence Officer for East Asia for the CIA offices made it clear that it is assumed that North Korea had the nuclear weapons technology in hand when Arthur Brown asked the question “Why do we think the North Koreas can’t have that kind of (nuclear weapons) technology?” He also made it clear that if we knew how much processed nuclear material North Korea had and what was required to create their small nuclear weapon then we would know how many weapons they have. See the following URLs on those kind of details issues that remain open.

More recently the Yonhap news agency report quoted the South Korean, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Kim Tae-Young “that North Korea may be working to develop a light-weight nuclear warhead that can be loaded onto a missile….”. He further revealed that North Korea “is believed to have 40 kilograms of Plutonium, enough to make six or seven nuclear weapons,…” but whether the North Korean regime has used all of its plutonium for weapons application is unclear. Work has also apparently started again at the Punggye-ri Pyongyang nuclear test facility presumable implying a future nuclear test preparation effort may be in the offing.

New North Korean Nuclear Materials Data?

On or about October 24, 2008 it became known that China was told that North Korea had extracted 30.8 kilograms Plutonium from its Yongbyon nuclear processing complex two kilograms of which were used for the October 9, 2006, 4 Kt nuclear test attempt leaving about 28.8 kilograms distributed to it other nuclear weapons utilization. That could be interpreted to indicate that North Korea has between 7 and 14 possible nuclear devices for nuclear weapons with some processing losses or left over materials. This falls with in the ball park of the above estimates or on the lower conservative side of the above analysis. How accurate this is is open to interpretation since it would appear that the amount of Plutonium required for the expected nuclear warhead fuel load which may indicate that the mass figures given were only for the fission primer not the main fuel load. This would change the actual number of warheads suggested to less than half that implied.

Musudan-ri, Launch Infrastructure is Much More Developed Than It is Credited to Be.

Contrary to reports the Musudan-ri, Taep’o-dong launch infrastructure does have a modern stage dynamic static test stand used numerous time in the testing program in addition to its older horizontal MIK assemble building and range control complex and other area range support facilities though they are not as up to date as the Dongchong-ri or Tongch’and-dong or Pongdong-ri facilities still undergoing final construction. The newer facility is expected to become operation in early 2009. The following url’s document that reality:

New Launch Infrastructure Developments in Musudan-ri, Taep’o-dong

 Most recent imagery reports as published in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper yet to be confirmed publicly through open source imagery publication are said to shows a considerable upgrading of the Musudan-ri, Taep’o-dong launch infrastructure. It is said to include an umbilical tower gantry crane replacement, a reworked launch pad possible placed on the available pad rails with reinforcements. The launch pads facilities infrastructure now includes a new automatic propellant supply loading facilities one of which had already been built then dismantled and now apparently redone. This is instead of a large fleet of truck supplied propellants on both sides of the launch pad area like seen in the last flight test build up in June, July 2006. Those trucks were apparently a tip off of the impending flight test on July 5, 2006 and there is also a large safety issue loading large amounts of propellants the way it was done last time. There are safer ways of doing propellant loading operations than that used in 2006. The existing MIK horizontal assembly building is also said to be undergoing an expansion and lengthening to better accommodate the preparation of the redesigned Taepo-dong-2C/3 launch vehicle. Although these improvements are upgrading the north eastern corner of North Korea Musudan-ri, Taep’o-dong launch facilities infrastructure it is clear that the south western location of the Dongchong-ri facilities infrastructure is much more developed than this. These developments certainly portend the future flight testing of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 probably not immediately but next spring or summer 2009 since the booster has been ready for flight testing since about eighteen months after its first launch failure July 5, 2006 . Presumable these developments were being held up due to the denuclearization process but were held as a trump card all along as North has done before.

Questions on Solid Motor Technology from Iran to North Korea

Iranian transfer of it advanced solid propellant technology to North Korea is a serious concern along with what it has already received from Russia . It has been suggested that North Korea has substituted the No-dong-B second stage of Taep’o-dong-2B , Taep’o-dong-2C/3 with a solid motor second and third stage with what could be a variant of the Iranian Ashura/Ghadr-110 altitude design first and second stage but there is no substantial evidence that such technology is being developed or utilized by North Korea from Iran or China. Suggestions of a substitution of a solid propellant second and third stage with this launch vehicle development program does not stand up when considering the understood state of North Korea's solid propellant ballistic missile program even if they are benefiting from Iran's extensive efforts in that area of ballistic missile technology development. I believe that the identification of a new design of the Taep’o-dong-2, 2B as the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 has been a subtle surprise that is only now becoming clear to the South Korean intelligence community and that therefore this assessment is premature and would equally be considered technologically questionable based on experience with such design approaches. Placing a large solid motor on top of a large liquid propellant first stage from experience tends to have real issues making it impractical.

Iran is also in the advanced stage of developing a series of solid propellant ballistic missile, and potential space boosters as compared to known equivalent systems of Pakistan, U.S and Russia.

The Inter-related North Korean, Iran ballistic Missile Space Booster Developments

Iran is basically equal or in many cases ahead of North Korea in these booster developments that serve both the ballistic missile program as well as the space booster development for both nations cooperative efforts. The successful flight to orbit of the Safir satellite launch vehicle demonstrated the critical staging guidance control technology required for ballistic missiles and future planned heavier space boosters. Like Taep’o-dong-1, Safir no matter what its rendition is not expected to be deployed as a strategic system because it simple does not have the required performance payload capacity for strategic application. It also portends the introduction of larger more capable space and strategic ballistic missile developments.

The Iranian successful development of the Ghadr-101 single stage missile with the Ghadr-110/Samen, 110A /Sejjil/Ashura solid propellant two and three stage missiles also indicated a second trend in Iranian developments that will lead to larger more capacity space boosters and potential ballistic missiles. Iran is known to be combining these liquid propellant and solid motor technologies to the development a more capable Safir block-II class space booster expected in 2010 with over twice the capability of the present Safir space booster. It will utilizing two Ghadr-101/Samen strap-on boosters with a Safir second stage and potential third stage with in its bulbous payload shroud giving it a 200-250 kilogram payload capacity as an interim step to both an advanced solid propellant space booster similar to Pakistan’s space booster efforts. This is addition to the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 larger space booster with a payload capacity on the order of 250-550 kilograms which are both clearly a potential ICBM warhead carrier rockets.

U. S intelligence has suggested that North Korea could export ICBM technology and or hardware to Iran in 2009 if they do not in fact already have it in hand. This has confirmed the indication that North Korea has ICBM capability in hand but not fully demonstrated. This is according to Admiral Timothy Keating, Chief of U. S Pacific Command as reported in the Middle East Newsline. It is assumed that the ICBM or satellite launch capability may once again be tested in 2009. (30) North Korea with Iran’s cooperation is expected to participate in the expected test flight of the Taep’o-dong-2C/3 out of the new Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch’ang-dong, North Korea’s new ballistic missile and space booster range launch site and or from the Musudan-Ri older ballistic missile space booster site being updated. This is expected to take place between late March and early April through August 2009 that in all probability will be its second satellite launch attempt. No doubt Iran will add this large space booster capability to its inventory with its many international technological strategic implications.


1. Pamela Hess, North Korea has second long-range missile site, Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2008 pp. 1-3.

2. North Korea has second long-range missile launch site: analyst, AFP Washington, Sept. 19, 2008 p.1.

3. Jane's Defense Weekly Uncovers North Korea's New Missile Facility,,Media Release, Sept. 11, 2008, p. 1-3.

4. N. Korea Building New Missile Base, http://english.chosun.con, Chosun ilbo (english edition) Sept. 12, 2008, p. 1.

5. New North Korean Missile Site Revealed, (english edition), Sept. 12, 2008, p. 1-2.

6. N. Korea Tests Missile Ignition,, Chosun ilbo English edition, Sept 16, 2008, p.1.

7. North Korea tests missile engine, http://www. (PRESSTV of Iran) Sept 16, 2008, p. 1.

8. N. Korea Developing Long Range Missile Thrusters At New Launch Site: Source," South Korean Yonhap news agency report, Sept. 16, 2008, p. 1-2.

9. Kim Kwi-Ku"n:"What Is the Missile Base in North Korea's Tongch"ang-ri for?-"likelihood of Launch Artificial Satellite - Relation to Nuclear Weapons Delivery Means"", South Korean Yonhap news agency report, Sept. 14, 2008, p. 1-2.

10. Google Earth imagery

11. N Korea conducts engine test at new missile site: report AFP, , Seoul, September 16-17, 2008, p. 1-2.

12. Pamela Hess, US: North Korea conducts missile engine test, Associated Press, September 16, 2008, p. 1-2.

13. Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times, North Korea Said to Have Tested Missile Engine, http://www. , Sept. 16, 2006, Sept 17, 2008, p. 1-2.

14. Blaine Harden, North Korea Tests Engine of Long-Range Missilew, Report Says, The Washington Post Foreign Service, Sept. 17, 2008 p. A-12.

15. Kurt Achin, Seoul, South Korea, New North Korean Missile Site Revealed, Voice of America, Sept 11, 2008 pp. 1-2.

16. Iranian military parade photographs of the FARS News Agency of September 21, 2008.

17. N Korea may already have nuclear warheads: ex-CIA official, Staff Writer, Tokyo , Japan , AFP, http://www.spacewar,com, September 26, 2008 , pp. 1-2.

18. N. Korea unlikely to possess nuclear weapons: military chief, Yonhap news agency, October 8 , 2008, pp. 1.

19. Intelligence: N. Korea to Test New Missile, The Dong-A Ilbo, , October 2, 2008 pp. 1 -2.

24. Gertz, Bill, How the “axis” seeks the killer missile, The Washington Times, January 30, 2007 , p. ?

25., Bill, How the “axis” seeks the killer missile, The Washington Times, January 30, 2007

26. N Korean base could handle longer-range missiles: S Korea minister,, Seoul AFP, Nov 4, 2008, pp. 1-2l.

27. A Korea:N Koreans building base for bigger missiles, Seoul, South Korea, AP, Nov. 5, 2008, p.1.

28. Iran "fires second space rocket", , BBC, 15:50 GMT November 26, 2008, pp. 1-2.

29. Iran To Send Animals Into Space, Tehran, Iran RIA Novosti,, Dec 03, 2008, p.1.

30. N. Korea Could Export ICBM Capability To Iran, Middle East Newsline, Washington, Dec. 24, 2008 p.1

31. Iran Builds First Satellite Ground Station, Middle East Newsline, Nicosia, January 14, 2009, p.1

32. Iran Begins Extended Shihab-3 Missile Output, Middle East Newsline, Nicosia, December 10, 2009, p.1.

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