Iran claims to have launched its first military satellite in orbit on Wednesday, according to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If true, the mission would be Iran’s first successful missile launch in some time after repeated failed attempts to bring a vehicle into space.
News of the launch is somewhat out of the blue. In the past, Earth observation satellites have seen the country’s launch preparations, but there was no public warning about this particular mission. Iran says the satellite, called Noor, is taking off on top of a relatively unknown rocket called Ghased, or ‘Messenger’, from the central desert of Iran, reaching an altitude of 425 kilometers or 265 miles above Earth, according to The Associated Press.
Today’s launch comes just a few months after Iran’s failed attempt to launch an Earth observation satellite in February. The missile for that mission took off as planned, but was unable to orbit the satellite. Iran’s space program also suffered a major setback in August last year, when a missile exploded on an Iranian launch pad ahead of a planned space mission. After the explosion, President Trump tweeted an incredibly detailed view of the scorched launch pad from above, likely from a secret spy satellite from the National Reconnaissance Office.
The US government has long condemned Iran’s spatial ambitions, claiming that the country could easily use the missile technology it developed to make a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Following the explosion of the launch pad in August, the US imposed new sanctions on Iran’s space program.
“The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as a cover to advance its ballistic missile programs,” said Michael Pompeo, United States Secretary of State, said in a statement on September 3. Iran’s attempt to launch a spacecraft on August 29 underlines the urgency of the threat. These indications should be a warning to the international scientific community that cooperation with Iran’s space program could contribute to Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapons transfer system. “
The State Department has not yet commented on this latest launch.
This is not the first successful satellite launch for Iran. The country set up its first communications satellite in 2009, followed by some successful launches in the following years. However, Iran has faced a series of failed launches since 2017.
The launch of Iran comes as the country continues to fight against a serious outbreak of COVID-19. The country currently reports more than 85,000 cases of the virus and more than 5,000 deaths.