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Iran has put imaging satellite in space, says minister

The launch could raise tensions with Western nations that fear space technology could be used by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran Satellite

Iran has successfully put an imaging satellite in space, a minister said, in a move that could raise tensions with Western nations that fear its space technology could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Communication minister Isa Zarepour told the state-run IRNA news agency that the Noor-3 satellite was put in an orbit 280 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Mr Zarepour said the aerospace arm of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which has had success in launching satellites in the past, carried out the most recent launch.

Authorities released footage of a rocket taking off from a mobile launcher without saying where the launch occurred.

Iran Satellite
A Noor-3 satellite blasts into space (IRIB via AP)

Details in the video corresponded with a Guard base near Shahroud, 205 miles north east of the capital, Tehran. The base is in Semnan province, which hosts the Imam Khomeini Spaceport from which Iran’s civilian space programme operates.

The Guard operates its own space programme and military infrastructure parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces and answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It launched its first satellite into space in April 2020.

The United States has alleged that Iran’s satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The US intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment claims the development of satellite launch vehicles “shortens the timeline” for Iran to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile because it uses similar technology.

Iran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons, and says its space programme, like its nuclear activities, is for purely civilian purposes. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say Iran abandoned an organised military nuclear programme in 2003.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The programme has seen recent troubles, however, and there have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh programme, another satellite-carrying rocket.

A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 killed three researchers, authorities said at the time. A launchpad rocket explosion later that year drew the attention of former president Donald Trump.

Tensions are already high with Western nations over Iran’s nuclear programme, which has steadily advanced since Mr Trump withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers five years ago, restoring crippling sanctions on Iran.

Efforts to revive the agreement reached an impasse more than a year ago. Since then, the IAEA said Iran has enough uranium enriched to near-weapons grade levels to build “several” nuclear weapons if it chooses to do so. Iran is also building a new underground nuclear facility that would likely be impervious to US air strikes.

Iran has expressed willingness to return to the 2015 nuclear deal but says the US should first ease the sanctions.

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