WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Satellite imagery is showing North Korea activity at its long-range rocket launch pad has accelerated since December – a development that is being monitored as the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on a bipartisan bill to strengthen sanctions against Pyongyang.
38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, published an analysis of satellite images Thursday, noting the presence of three objects at the base of the gantry tower that are either "vehicles or equipment" in an image taken on Jan. 25.
Other changes have taken place since Dec. 28, the report noted, including the clearing of snow that had covered most of the launch pad area. Snow on an access road to fuel, or oxidizer bunkers, has also been removed, analyst Jack Liu wrote.
Other evidence is suggesting preparations are underway. On Jan. 25, several vehicles could be seen in housing parking areas not seen in the December image.
These vehicles generally appear when an engine test or rocket launch is being prepared, Liu wrote, and a large rail-mounted environmental shelter appeared complete, and had moved up to the engine test stand.
The analyst added that more information would be needed that a rocket launch was in the works, but because the gantry tower was under a cover it was difficult to assess the preparations were for a long-range missile launch. Even if Pyongyang was preparing a launch, a test within a week is unlikely, Liu wrote.
These and other reports on a possible North Korea provocation come at a time when the Senate is expected to introduce a bill that could strengthen North Korea embargos.
The Washington Post reported some senators are worried the Obama administration is not being assertive enough to crack down on illicit North Korea activities as well as on those who conduct business with Pyongyang.
The bill would make sanctions for banned transactions mandatory, and adds more restrictions after a bill passed in the House that requires the president to place sanctions on money launderers, weapons dealers and human rights violators.