WASHINGTON — Satellite imagery shows North Korea is upgrading its old launch site in the secretive country's northeast to handle larger rockets, like space launch vehicles and intercontinental missiles, a U.S. institute claimed Tuesday.
The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said the upgrade of the Musudan-ri site began last summer and reflects North Korean determination to expand its rocket program.
The U.S. and other nations are worried such rockets could be developed to deliver nuclear weapons.
North Korea on Tuesday vowed to push ahead with its nuclear program because of what it called U.S. hostility. The international community is pressuring North Korea to refrain from conducting what would be its third nuclear test, following a failed attempt in mid-April to launch a satellite into space.
That launch, using its biggest rocket to date, the Unha-3, was from a more sophisticated site at Sohae on the country's northwestern coast.
An April 29 aerial image of Musudan-ri on the opposite coast shows the initial stages of construction of a launch pad and rocket assembly building that could support rockets at least as big as the Unha-3, the institute told The Associated Press. A crane is visible where the launch pad is being built 1.1 miles from the old one. At the current pace of construction, the facilities should be operational by 2016-2017, the institute said.
"This major upgrade program, designed to enable Musudan-ri to launch bigger and better rockets far into the future, represents both a significant resource commitment and an important sign of North Korea's determination," said Joel Wit, editor of the institute's website, 38 North.