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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Unha-2/Taep'o-dong 2

(TD-2) 3rd. & 4th. Flight Test Buildup

The Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong West Coast & Musudan-ni East Coast Facilities Status Report


By C. P. Vick

Senior Technical Analyst  


 Knowing what is understood from the previous North Korean flight testing experience with the Unha-2/Taep’o-dong-2 ballistic missile, space booster launch preparation allows the all source analyst to predict its present build up operations with a degree of reasonable estimation certainty on what to expect. That analysis must also take into account other issues such as North Koreas notorious deception operations that ultimately impact that estimation as the trends reveal themselves. Completion of the Tongch'ang-dong, launch facility was previously predicted and written by this author because of his engineering, technology, architectural, construction industry experience in addition to his space design technology and program administration, planning knowledge.

The intelligence activity that caught ever bodies attention was observed at the factory at Sanum'dong fourteen miles or 22.53 km north of Pyongyang in which only the movements of the estimated 32-35 meter long erector transporter was seen. It is a flatbed cargo carrier left side mounted heating air conditioning environmental control unit for the third stage and payload with front and rear mounted driving cabs, yellow colored strong back erector, transporter based both on imagery and published descriptions of the equipment and its utilization. It was reported that the missile under green tarps was as expected placed on the erector transporter and in turn it was placed on an about "40 meter long" [39.24 m] railroad car among three railroad cars utilized for this logistic operations. Normally railroad cars are on the order of 14.62-19.62 meters in length according to international design standards. It is believed to have been shipped Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong the new west coast launch facility infrastructure and not to the Musudan-ni facility infrastructure on the east coast. That journey started May 29, 2009 and should have taken both a train from Sanum'dong to Tetsuzan and road transport trip to Tongch'ang-dong lasting no more than three days at most.

The Unha-2, Taep'o-dong-2B launch vehicle transporter erector from the Digital Globe imagery, 26 March 2009, the day the booster was placed on the pad. The next day it was not visible at the site.

Unha-2, Taep'o-dong-2B on its erector transporter

The Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong West Coast & Musudan-ni East Coast Facilities Status

The North Korean build up to its third flight test of the Unha-2 booster movements from the Sanum’dong missile research factory with the erector transporter and rail, road transportation to the Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong, launch facility took place over May 29-31, 2009. Digital Globe imagery from the June 3, 2009 orbital pass shows that its launch facility is very close to being finished with little remaining in the construction materials lay down yard beside the on pad tarmac and gantry umbilical tower.

Again early in the week of June 15, 2009 another erector transporter and the rail, road transportation from the Sanum’dong missile research factory to the Musudan-ni launch site was reported to have taken place according to South Korean Government intelligence sources. It probably took place over the week of June 7-14, 2009.

What is striking both in the Musudan-ni and Tongch’ang-dong facilities are the very clear indication of a near total lack of activity leading up to satellite launches or ballistic missile flight tests. The further lack of any press reports of build up activity from the South Korean and Japanese as well as US intelligence sources strongly suggest that the launch attempts are not expected any time soon. Indeed all intelligence sources have subsequently confirmed this judgment as correct based on the open source imagery analysis.

Through August 12, 2009 there had still been no reports of either launch site showing launch preparation activity after the earlier delivery of the launch vehicles to their respective launch infrastructure. The DPRK's next military exercise period is expected this October but that does not mean these boosters will be launch during that time frame. The noted Musudan-ni transporter erector return to the factory probably means that that was merely the same erector seen on site earlier on March 26, 2009 imagery above for the April 5, 2009 launch of the second Unha-2, Taep'o-dong-2B and that no launch is expected from that site in the near future.

On October 26 th 2009 South Korean official, without attribution, let it be known that the DPRK had recently finished the construction process for the Dongchang-ri launch infrastructure. Further they noted that facilities are in the process of being used for testing of missile components. The primary launch pad and its gantry umbilical tower was the last element requiring construction detailing completion based on available open source imagery. Back in June South Korean officials had indicated that a Unha-2/Taep’o-dong-2 class three stage missile had been delivered to the Dongchang-ri launch infrastructure via its road mobile erector transporter by train for a potential ground testing or launch when desired.

How could such as series of flight tests be so quickly orchestrated so soon after the second flight test failure of April 5, 2009 of the Unha-2 booster, with its third stage ignition failure gives one pause when reviewing such considerations?

They had produced 20 boosters by 2006 according to intelligence revealed by the then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld separate from the R&D elements copies so they are down to perhaps 18 boosters being updated as required back at the factory at this point. That is two boosters have been expended in flight testing and two more have been sent one to each launch sites leaving about 16 boosters in their inventory some of which may be committed to sale for Iran this year.

Unha-2, Taep'o-dong-2B Final design

The Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong West Coast Facility Details

What is important is the information obtained from the June 3, 2009 imagery that the gantry umbilical tower has no gantry crane. This implies that the booster payload combination is brought to the pad fully assembled payload and all on a forty meter long erector transporter as seen in Musudan-ni, March 26, 2009 imagery. The forty meter length for the erector transporter with the fully assembled booster and payload fits the estimated booster length of on the order of thirty meters or more regardless of the payload configuration. Potentially this means that the facility requires no gantry crane though one could appear at any time in the future. Close study of the top of the gantry umbilical tower in fact seems to show a foundation for the potential installation of a gantry crane but that does not mean anything until it appears or is sub planted by the erector transporter. Certainly the kind of huge cranes required to erect such a gantry crane are not visible on site at the time of the last imagery available. No personnel or vehicular traffic is present in the imagery but the booster and payload third stage arrived just over the weekend [ May 29-31, 2009] so the activity build up has just begun with much more to come eventually.

In general it is believed that the overall Tongch’ang-dong launch infrastructure is nearing completion soon. The gantry umbilical tower for the Pongdong-ni./Tongch’ang-dong facility as observed in the June 3, 2009 imagery still did not sport the tower service levels army green tarps in that image. When they will be installed remains unclear with the lack of follow up imagery.

There is a new concrete roadway to enter the primary much more modern multi bayed horizontal assembly building. Additionally there is a separate much more modern series of separate payload and last stage processing center buildings separate from but nearby the main horizontal assembly building. 

Among those separate horizontal assembly buildings is a payload processing building that is apparently for the third stage as well as the payload with it vertical assembly high bay area. Also there is a separate near by test firing RCS systems (reaction control system) building that is apparently partially exposed and a none destruct explosive processing area building near this payload processing building. Here again the imagery reveals there is no evidence of vehicular or personnel activity during the day.

It has been possible to identify the apparent launch control center with its separate parking facility. Launch control appears to be an above ground multi storied higher elevation building from the launch pad area near by up range from the general launch site. Here again the imagery reveals there is no evidence of vehicular or personnel activity during the day.

No launch pad vertical processing assembly building is anticipated to be built on the launch pad tarmac site at this time if it ever appears. This bringing into question the requirements for such an installation in the face of the horizontal assembly operations based on the semi mobile transporter erector.

It has not been possible to identify the VIP viewing areas and other sites for mobile telemetry and mobile radar tracking equipment not that they are not there because of the many differences in this newer facility as opposed to east coast Musudan-ni infrastructure.

Where are the Expected Personnel and Vehicular Activity?

Here again the imagery reveals there is no evidence of personnel activity during the day. Whether the possibility exist for busing of personnel to and from the on site infrastructure personnel housing areas to avoid the dozen or so satellites coverage or coverage gaps filled by UAV’s is unclear. The possibility for work inside and the potential of night time work remains uncertain. This would not normally be observable in available open source imagery. This remains an open issue except for the intelligence comment conclusions that none has been observed. Again the build up activity has just begun with much more to come eventually but when has become the new issue. Certainly the North Korea’s notorious deception operations have to be considered here. So one can not assume such advanced activities should be present at this time so soon after the hardware has arrived on site. Yet the activities were observed in a matter of days during previous operations earlier this year.

Measured Construction Progress

This west coast facility as early as December 23, 2008 was still in the process of having the smaller diameter upper stage service levels built on the ground before installation. By February 17, 2009 it still did not have all its service levels and there was no gantry crane present with a considerable amount of construction materials hardware still remaining lying on the tarmac ground lay down area. This meant that it was not ready yet. That has since been considerable accelerated towards completion.

Some Questions of What is being Prepared for Testing Remain Unanswered

I do wonder if the booster is not in fact a ground facility’s systems test launch vehicle and not a flight vehicle. South Korean intelligence sources have suggest a similar possibility because it is assumed to be to early for a flight test after the recent flight failure of the third stage on April 5, 2009. Certainly a ground test missile sent to the Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong site would not be unexpected but there is at present no way openly to know the answer to this issue. The issue is concern about when the gantry umbilical towers facilities check out flushing prior to flight test hardware introduction is to be carried out or has it already been done? Since the automated fueling facilities are completed it may have recently been cleared for operations.

Launch Timing Question

To suggest a launch within two weeks of arrival on site as recently suggested is highly improbable. Based on past practices it is more likely to entail 50-55 days in the horizontal assembly building to prepare the three stage booster and payload assembly before sending it to the pad horizontally fully assembled to erect it on the pad for 10-12 days build up prior to launch. That would make it mid [after July 18 th.] to late July for an after July 28 th possible launch attempt before the July 30 th South Korean planned satellite launch attempt.

Since the two weeks have passed since the Unha-2 arrived on site and no launch is obviously in the immediate offing presumably confirms this conclusions. To do all of this in less than a month is highly improbable at this point in the Unha-2/Taep’o-dong-2 development given the lack of observed activity. They are no where close to a two week launch schedule be they experienced or not and the idea of a third flight test so shortly afterwards of the second flight failure is questionable even if the third stage issues are resolved.

Unha-2/Taep’o-dong-2B ballistic missile, space booster April 5, 2009

Musudan-ri Launch Site Preparation

Again early in the week of June 15, 2009 the movements of another erector transporter and rail, road transportation from Sanum’dong missile research factory heading for the Musudan-ni launch site was reported to have taken place probably over the last week June 7-14, 2009 according to South Korean Government and Intelligence sources. This could be the second of two potential Unha-2/Taep’o-dong-2 flights being prepared or a deception operation by North Korea. One missile is known to be at the Pongdong-ni, or Dongchong-ni or Tongch'ang-dong launch site which could be either a ground test vehicle or a flight test vehicle and now it appears that the second missile is now located at the Musudan-ni facility infrastructure. This second missile could probably be flown no earlier than in early August 2009 at the soonest. The launch vehicle sent to Musudan-ri will probably fly the same flight path previously charted in late July or early August 2009 flight attempts. True North Korea has also warned of flight over the East Sea/Sea of Japan but these are for shorter range missile launch corridors as seen in 2006.

What is striking both in the Musudan-ni and Pongdong-ni. / Tongch’ang-dong facilities are the very clear indication of a lack of activity that would not be expected to commence until after July 18 th at the earliest on the Tongch’ang-dong facility. This is based on the 50 day or more horizontal assembly building build up process previously observed that was followed by the 20 and later on 10-12 days on the pad lead up to launch. Again this implies that no launch until July 28-31, 2009 could be expected out of the Pongdong-ni / Tongch’ang-dong facility if even then. The Musudan-ni facility would extend into early first half of August before a launch could be expected. They are clearly not aiming for a July 5/4 launch date and they never were as time has proven.

However on June 25 through July 1-2, 2009 South Korean and DoD intelligence sources repeatedly indicated that they did not expect a launch any time soon in spite of the apparent hardware arrival on both sites. Both the Musudan-ni facility imagery of June 27, 2009 and Pongdong-ni. / Tongch’ang-dong imagery of June 3, 2009 show a definite lack of activity leading to a launch attempt. There have been no reports from the US or South Korean intelligence sources as of today of the mobile radars and telemetry equipment arrival on site on either facility or any of the build up activity previously observed in the late January through early April 2009 launch earlier this year at either site.

The June 27 th image of Musudan-ri confirms this reality. It shows no vehicular or personnel activity around the horizontal assembly building, the range launch control center or on launch pad activity. However it is noteworthy that the gantry umbilical tower now is sporting it military green tarps once again that were previously removed prior to the launch last April 5, 2009.

The Musudan-ni static test stand does appear to have some activity in progress but most of the vehicles are the previously observed tanker trucks remaining parked on site. Most of the vehicles at the range administrative personnel housing barracks seems rather quiet to what has been observed there before with many of the vehicles parked in storage positions again demonstrating a lack of activity. Only one truck was observed on a road intersection from the site infrastructure.

Potential Mission Payloads Question

Exactly what the end game of all these two launch site in progress activity remains unclear on both sites but North Korea can fly out of this Tongch'ang-dong facility to polar orbit inclined just west of a due south inclination for an imaging/ERTS or weather satellite launch or for a limited range LRICBM test without going over other countries territory. While a near due east flight out of Musudan-ni would be for a communications satellite or could be for an LRICBM test flight.

Two Ranges Available

Based on what North Korea has already given notice to clear fishing in the yellow sea through July 30, 2009 suggest that the launch from the West coast facility Tongchang-ri is probably going to fly out over the yellow sea in a near due south direction towards the equator not over South Korea and is probably designed to place a satellite in near polar orbit that would be placed in orbit before flying over the Philippines. The second stage impact zone is probably in the south Philippine Sea near Indonesia ( New Guinea ) near the Philippine Trench. Longer range flights could be flown out of the Musudan-ni site on a near due east trajectory for 6,700 kilometers or it could be flown from Tangch’ang-dong flying over south Korea to impact west of Australia 6,700 kilometers down range. The probability of the North Koreans flying out over North Korea or South Korean mainland I submit is highly improbable because of internal impact or avoidance of failure disaster issues much less threat issues.

I have suggested both in interviews and in writing that they are on a campaign to duplicate what Iran did to finally get a satellite in orbit though they will never admit it to their populous. North Korea has indeed threatened to launch an ICBM although it is a limited range capability system called a (LRICBM) with the presently known warhead masses. Whether an ICBM configuration or a satellite launch version will be flown is not known at this time.

To launch a satellite would be valid but an ICBM would in part invalidate their clam of a space program for this booster proving the obvious duel purpose of the flights leading to external export to Iran for hard currency this year.

This initial analysis has left the question have the North Koreans in part actually deployed the Unha-2 ballistic missiles satellite launch vehicles to the available launch sites for possible strategic reasons holding their options open for a satellite launches or ballistic missile tests once they are ready.

The Three Times Yearly Military Exercises Missile Firings

The multiple missile launches are the typical military exercises held three
times yearly coincided with the DPRK geopolitical statement that is also associated with their defensive systems testing training.

The initial of the three time yearly military exercises short range shore to ship missile firings of the four Styx class NK-1 were reported July 2/ 3, 2009 when they were flown from Sinsang-ni on the east coast south Hamgyong facility that cover a sea warning area cleared of ships and air flight that covers an area of 450 km by 110 km for during the period of June 25 through July 10, 2009 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. along the east coat of North Korea. Once this is over the possibility that the available mobile radars and telemetry equipment may be freed up for the Unha-2 next two flights.

The initial three medium range missiles spotted near Anbyeon in Southeastern Gangwon province south of Wonsan also called Kittaeryong are apparently No-dong-A's 1,100-1,500 km range as well as Scud-B’s, C’s and ER’s types with varying tactical ranges of 300 to 800 kilometers were expected to be flown on or around July 4/5, 2009 with seven firings of Scud type. Perhaps no No-dong-B's with their 3,000-4,000 km range will be flow for now. They would only be able to fly them as vertical probes not to full range. The No-dong-A has been flown over this range in a similar manner back in 2006 to a single target circle. These launches are possibility expected between June 10 th and July 31, 2009, although it is questionable whether they would utilize these high valued systems. What they will do and in what direction they will fly the No-dong-B remains unclear but it probably will be a near vertical probe similar to the 2006 No-dong-A flights if it takes place at all.

Notes: "While the official national designator of this facility is unknown, it is common practice to name such facilities by using the name of the closest populated place. In this case it could be either the small village of Pongdong-ni or Kwi-gol, both of which were partially demolished during the construction. The designation Pongdong-ni Missile and Space Launch Facility is used here for readability. Other names sometimes suggested include Tongch'ang-dong and Dongchong-ni."   Pongdong-ni, Tongch'ang-dong and Dongchong-ni are all the same northwest coastal launch facility infrastructures names While Musudan-ni is the east coast launch site.

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