On December 16th, 2022, North Korean state-owned media reported that the country conducted its first solid-fuel rocket motor at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongch’ang-ri, Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province. That test claimed to have tested a “high-thrust solid-fuel motor with a thrust of 140tf [metric tons]” larger than U.S. Minutemen III and Chinese DF-31 rockets. The following pictures are reportedly from that test, released by North Korean state-owned media:
However, commercial imagery released today reportedly shows a second solid-fuel rocket test carried out at the Magunpo engine test site in South Hamgyong Province. David Schumler, a senior researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation, released the following photos, which he captured through the use of Maxar and Planet Labs:
Schumler comments that a more than 100m scorch mark was left on the hillside, which was previously covered in snow, between 1053L on 29JAN22 and 0903L on 30JAN22, a mere 40 days since the initial test at nearby Sohae. He also told VOA News in an interview that:
“We lucked out with the imagery in the weather, with the snow on the ground, because that was able to show us that the engine test, the motor test had happened… North Korea’s primary solid fuel testing facility is in Magun-po, right next to Hungnam, the country’s east coast. It’s, you know, generally the center of the chemical industry in North Korea. It’s also where they produce solid fuel for the rockets. So that’s one of the reasons why they test there.”
This aggressive testing further demonstrates how Kim Jong-Un is racing forward with his plans to arm the Hermit Kingdom with solid-fuel rockets. Currently, North Korea relies on liquid-fuel rockets, which take longer to position and launch and are more costly to develop. Liquid fuel rockets also have more components that weigh down the rocket and can detract from warheads. However, solid-fuel rockets’ thrust cannot be throttled once ignited. If the North Korean military could arm its rocket forces with solid-fuel rockets, their ability to covertly position and launch missiles would increase significantly.