Satellite images suggest that North Korea could be preparing to launch a missile or space rocket in the near future, analysts said Friday, signaling a potential blow to US-North Korea relations, CNN informs.
The commercial images, taken on February 22 by imaging company DigitalGlobe, reveal an uptick in activity at a facility in Sanumdong, a suburb of the capital Pyongyang. North Korea has previously assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite-launching rockets at Sanumdong.
The release of the images follows an assessment by respected North Korea monitoring website 38 North that the Sohae satellite launch facility, which had been partially disassembled as part of disarmament steps, is now back to normal operational status after a flurry of restoration work in recent weeks – work that appears to have picked up after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump’s failed summit in Hanoi on February 28.
Satellite launches use similar technology as ballistic missiles, and experts have long maintained that North Korea’s attempts to shoot satellites into space could help them develop viable long-range ballistic missiles. Lewis cautioned that it is impossible to know whether the North Koreans are preparing a military missile or a space rocket. It is also possible that the activity was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of US spy satellites.
The US State Department has declined to comment, CNN adds.
“Because that (Sanumdong) facility produces both ICBMs and space rockets, we don’t know what’s on the train,” said Melissa Hanham, a North Korea expert with the One Earth Future Foundation. “We also don’t know how far the train has gotten.”
Hanham believes a satellite launch is the more likely scenario because there has never been an ICBM launch from Sohae. She also says activity at the launch site should indicate about a week in advance whether a launch is imminent. “There’s never been a surprise launch from Sohae,” Hanham said.
It’s unclear if the recent developments will affect how the White House moves forward with North Korea.
North Korea’s missile program made strides in 2017, with Pyongyang saying it successfully test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles. Experts say the Hwasong-15, which was launched in late November, can likely hit much of the United States, CNN notes.