Iran launches satellite, Iran satellite orbit, Iran satellite nuclear weapons
Fars News Agency/AP
This photo released by the Fars News
Agency claims to show an Iranian
launching rocket named "Safir-2"

Does Iran’s Satellite Launch Reveal Ill Intentions?

February 03, 2009 05:30 PM
by Josh Katz
Iran’s first satellite has concerned many international observers; does Iran have any malicious intent or is it simply trying to demonstrate technological prowess?

Iran Launches Satellite

Iran launched its first domestic satellite into orbit last night, joining the small number of nations that have such technological capability. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the launch—timed to correspond with the 30th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution—a “source of pride” for the country, according to state-run news services. Although Iran has falsely stated technological achievements in the past, the United States has verified that the low-earth satellite is in orbit, according to CNN.

The satellite intensifies fears about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, even though officials say the satellite does not have weapons capability. But the rocket used to launch the satellite is capable of launching long-range weapons, CNN reports.

Iran says that its intentions for the satellite are peaceful, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that it will be used to collect environmental data. The Times of London also writes that, “The state news agency, IRNA, said the satellite would take orbital measurements and would circle the Earth 15 times every day.”

The satellite is called Omid, which means “hope” in Persian. Iranian state TV said it was “another achievement for Iranian scientists under sanctions,” according to CNN.

The launch also comes days before members of the United Nations Permanent Security Council—the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany—will meet in Frankfurt to talk about Iran’s nuclear program, according to The Times of London.

Reza Taghipour, the head of Iran’s space agency, said the country will “launch another satellite rocket on March 20,” the Times writes.

Although this is Iran’s first domestic launch, there have been several Iranian launches in the past. In October 2005, Iran launched the Sina-1 satellite from a Russian pad, but observers said the satellite was not strong enough for effective espionage. In February 2008, Iran launched its domestically-produced Explorer 1 rocket, and in August Iran said it launched a “dummy satellite on a domestically made Safir satellite carrier for the first time,” but the United States said that the attempt failed. Then in September, China, Iran and Thailand jointly launched a satellite on a Chinese rocket, according to Reuters.

Background: Iran is ninth country to launch satellite

In October 1957, the Soviet Union became the first country to launch an artificial satellite with Sputnik 1. The Soviet Union, like Iran today, made sure to use the launch as propaganda, and it provided an ample spark to fuel the space race. The United States quickly responded and launched Explorer 1 in January 1958.

Since then, France, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, India and Israel have all “successfully flew their own space launchers,” according to Israel was the most recent country to do so prior to Iran, launching its satellite in 1988.

Opinion & Analysis: What does the satellite launch mean?

In the New York Times blog Lede, Robert Mackey compares the media surrounding Iran’s launch with that of Sputnik. He quotes Tal Inbar, head of the Space Research Centre at Israeli think-tank the Fisher Brothers Institute, who told Israeli radio, “We should regard this satellite as the ‘Iranian Sputnik,’” and “The main value is … propaganda.”

But that doesn’t mean the world should get too worried about the launch. Julian Borger of The Guardian writes: “From a purely technical point of view, the advances represented by the satellite launch are incremental. The ballistic technology is basically the same as Iran’s Shahab-3 missile, which was tested to great fanfare last year. That technology demonstrated Iran could reach Tel Aviv, Cairo or Riyadh with its missiles.” Nonetheless, the launch could have implications for President Barack Obama’s stance on missile defense, because it might boost the argument that it is necessary to counter the Iranian threat, despite Russian concerns, he says.

Borger also argues that the launch is meaningful for Iranian politics, because, not only does it show the country’s strength, but it could help Ahmadinejad in the upcoming elections “in the eyes of both the average voter and … the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.” Ahmadinejad had promised modernization and economic improvements and the satellite could fit that bill.

However, Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of the Arms Control Wonk blog doesn’t want to focus on the repercussions at the moment, just the fact that Iran was able to pull off such a feat. “There will be plenty of time to discuss the security implications of Iran’s Omid satellite but for right now, let’s take a minute to appreciate the technological feat it represents! In the face of world opposition and sanctions, Iran has joined a very exclusive club: those countries that have managed to orbit a satellite,” he writes.

Related Topic: China becomes third country to have space walk


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