TEHRAN, Iran – Iran launched a rocket carrying a satellite carrier with three instruments into space, officials announced Thursday, without revealing whether any objects have entered Earth orbit.
It was unclear when the launch took place or what equipment the carriers brought with them. Iran broadcast footage of the explosion against the backdrop of talks in Vienna to restore Tehran’s broken nuclear deal with world powers. The eighth round was going on this week and is to start again after the New Year holidays.
Past launches have drawn rebuke from the United States. The US military did not respond to requests for comment from Iran on Thursday’s announcement. However, the State Department said it was concerned about Iran’s space launches, which pose “a significant proliferation concern” in relation to Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
Defense Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hosseini identified the rocket as the Simorg or “Phoenix” rocket, which sent three instruments up to 470 kilometers (290 mi).
“The demonstration of the space station and the demonstration of the satellite carrier was done properly,” Hosseini was quoted as saying.
But hours later, Hosseini and other officials remained silent on the status of the objects, suggesting that the rocket had fallen short of placing its payload in the correct orbit. Hosseini offered a speedup for the satellite carrier that state-affiliated reporters indicated that reporting on the incident would not be sufficient to reach orbit.
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 parallel program that Last year successfully put a satellite into orbit, Hosseini described the launch announced on Thursday as “preliminary,” indicating more are on the way.
Television broadcast footage of a white rocket carrying the slogans “Simorgh satellite carrier” and “We can” shot into the morning sky from Iran’s Imam Khomeini spaceport. A state TV reporter at a nearby desert site described the launch as “another achievement by Iranian scientists”.
The blasts have raised concerns in Washington about whether the technology used to launch satellites could further Iran’s ballistic missile development. The United States says such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to refrain from any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
“Space launch vehicles include technologies that are nearly identical to, and are interchangeable with, those used in ballistic missiles, including long-range systems,” the State Department said late Thursday. “The United States continues to use all of its non-proliferation tools to prevent the progress of Iran’s missile programs and urges other countries to take steps to address Iran’s missile development activity.”
Iran, which has long said it does not want nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
Declaring a rocket launch as diplomats struggle to restore Tehran’s nuclear deal lives with Tehran’s hardline posture under the recently elected conservative cleric, President Ibrahim Raisi.
New Iranian demands in nuclear talks have angered Western nations and heightened regional tensions as Tehran moves forward with nuclear progress. Diplomats have repeatedly raised the alarm that the time is running out to restore the agreement, which was broken three years ago when Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal.
From Vienna, Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told Iranian state TV that he expects diplomats to do “more serious work to lift sanctions” when nuclear talks resume next week. He described last week’s conversations as “positive”.
Washington, however, has thrown cold water at Tehran’s upbeat assessment. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters earlier this week that “it is too early to tell whether Iran has returned to this period with a more constructive approach.”
Iran has now dropped all limits under the agreement, and has increased uranium enrichment from 4% purity to 60% – a small, technical step up from weapons-grade levels. International inspectors face challenges in monitoring Tehran’s progress.
Satellite images seen by the Associated Press suggested a launch was imminent earlier this month, The images showed preparations at the spaceport about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of Tehran in the desert plains of Iran’s rural Semnan province.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 sent a monkey into space. But the government under Raisi seems to have intensified its focus on space. Iran’s Supreme Council of Space has met for the first time in 11 years.