Iran on Thursday announced it launched a satellite carrier rocket bearing three devices into space, although it’s unclear whether any of the objects entered orbit around the Earth.
The state TV report, as well as others by Iran’s semiofficial news agencies, did not say when the launch was conducted nor what devices the carrier brought with it. However, the launch comes amid indirect U.S.-Iran talks taking place in Austria to try to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal.
Previous launches have drawn rebukes from the United States. The U.S. State Department, Space Force and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ahmad Hosseini, a Defence Ministry spokesperson, identified the rocket as a Simorgh, or “Phoenix,” rocket. He said the three devices were sent up 470 kilometres.
Hosseini was quoted as saying the “performance of the space centre and the performance of the satellite carrier was done properly.” He described the launch as “initial,” suggesting more are on the way.
“The intended research objectives of this launch were achieved,” Hosseini said, in comments broadcast on state television. “This was done as a preliminary launch … God willing, we will have an operational launch soon.”
Iran’s TV aired footage of the white rocket emblazoned with the words, “Simorgh satellite carrier” and the slogan “We can” shooting into the morning sky from Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport. A state TV reporter at a nearby desert site hailed the launch as “another achievement by Iranian scientists.”
No word on orbit
However, officials were silent on whether the launched objects had actually reached orbit. Iran’s civilian space program has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including fatal fires and a launchpad rocket explosion that drew the attention of then-U.S. President Donald Trump in August 2019.
Iranian state media recently offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space program. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that successfully put a satellite into orbit last year.
The blastoffs have raised concerns in Washington about whether the technology used to launch satellites could advance Iran’s ballistic missile development. The United States says that such satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to steer clear of any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
Information and Communications Technology Minister Isa Zarepour said: “I hope lessons learned from this research launch will pave the way for operational access to satellite system launch technology,” according to state media.
Announcing a launch as nuclear negotiators meet in Vienna aligns with Tehran’s hard-line posture under President Ebrahim Raisi, a recently elected conservative cleric.
New Iranian demands in the nuclear talks have exasperated Western nations and heightened regional tensions as Tehran presses ahead with atomic advancements. Diplomats have repeatedly raised the alarm that time is running out to restore the accord, which collapsed three years ago when America unilaterally withdrew under then-President Trump.
Iran has now abandoned all limitations under the agreement, and has ramped up uranium enrichment from under four per cent purity to 60 per cent — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. International inspectors face challenges in monitoring Tehran’s advances.
Satellite images seen by The Associated Press suggested a launch was imminent earlier this month. The images showed preparations at the spaceport in the desert plains of Iran’s rural Semnan province, some 240 kilometres southeast of Tehran.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. But under Raisi, the government appears to have sharpened its focus on space. Iran’s Supreme Council of Space has met for the first time in 11 years.