Washington, March 9 (IANS) Satellite images of a North Korean rocket assembly facility suggest possible launch preparations, an expert told CNN.
The images, taken on February 22 by imaging company DigitalGlobe, reveal an uptick in activity at the facility in Sanumdong, a suburb of Pyongyang, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, said on Friday.
North Korea has previously assembled some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellite-launching rockets at Sanumdong.
Friday’s development follows an assessment by US think tank 38 North that North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launch Facility, which had been partially disassembled as part of a pledge by Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un, is now back to normal operational status after a flurry of restoration work in recent weeks.
“We’re seeing a lot of vehicle activity at the Sanumdong facility and also at the rail transfer point where it would be loaded and taken to Sohae,” said Lewis, who has studied the images.
“I think the evidence points to a satellite launch, and not just the evidence at Sanumdong, but also the evidence from Sohae.”
Lewis warned that it was impossible to know whether the North Koreans were preparing a military missile or a space rocket.
It’s also possible that the activity was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of US spy satellites, he told CNN.
Satellite launches use similar technology as ballistic missiles, and experts have long warned that North Korea’s attempts to shoot satellites into space could help them develop viable long-range ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s missile programme made strides in 2017, with Pyongyang saying it successfully test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Experts say the Hwasong-15, which was launched last November, can likely hit much of the US.