Monitoring North Korea
In December, 38 North released a 3D panorama model of the interior of the control center at Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Pyongan—the site where North Korea launches its satellites and tests its rockets and ballistic missiles.
In December, 38 North, a website dedicated to the analysis of North Korea, released a 3D panorama model of the interior of the control center at Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Pyongan—the site where North Korea launches its satellites and tests its rockets and ballistic missiles.
This panorama is the latest in a series of Sohae Station models 38 North has been producing since 2013. Visual data and intelligence used for the recreations are derived primarily from commercial satellite imagery and publicity photos released online by the North Korean government. The site has worked with commercial imagery companies such as DigitalGlobe since its modeling program began.
The details and design of the center’s interior were created from a series of state-run media releases that revealed quality equipment such as LED monitors, computers, and projectors. Nathan Hunt, who creates these models for 38 North, used drawing systems and software tools such as Sketchup to transform the 2D imagery into a 3D experience.
“While initial glimpses of the control room from KCNA videos and media were cut up and disjointed, the reconstructions help piece those views together into a single comprehensive view,” Hunt said. “This provides a full visualization and helps improve understanding of the internal structures and working space. It also helps fill in details of the rest of the facility. Some initial data was gleaned from geospatial reconnaissance during the construction of the facility, the internal visualization can then be used to fill in the blanks, and give some indication of layout, investment, and capability.”
After the panorama was released in December, Wired magazine published an article about 38 North’s modeling and analysis efforts. According to Wired, 38 North has “already begun work on 3D renderings of the exterior of the launch control center, the vehicle processing and readying building, and the new launch pad structure to flesh out a fuller portrait of the entire complex.”
Models like these help visualize mysterious operations in denied-access areas, and detailed, accurate visuals such as these help the Intelligence Community better understand the functions and potential limitations of one of the most secretive space and missile programs in the world.
While completing contract work for 38 North, Hunt has taken on a lead role at Strategic Sentinel heading up reconstruction development projects such as the analytical open-source intelligence reconstruction of the Iranian Qiam silo done for the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. Hunt is currently looking at ways to expand the capability of Strategic Sentinel’s reconstruction department.
“Increasing the speed at which to produce visualizations is one of our first goals, but we are also looking at new platforms such as virtual and augmented reality to determine how we can best showcase future projects,” Hunt said.
Photo Credit: 38 North
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