- Iran looks to be preparing for a space launch while discussions over its shattered nuclear deal with Western powers continue in Vienna.
- Planet Labs Inc. satellite photographs acquired by The Associated Press show activity at the spaceport in the desert plains of Iran’s rural Semnan region.
- The action comes after Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported on December 5 that the country’s space program had four satellites ready for flight.
Iran prepares for space launch
According to an expert and satellite photographs, Iran looks to be preparing for a space launch while discussions over its shattered nuclear deal with Western powers continue in Vienna.
The expected launch from Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport comes as Iranian official media has released a list of impending planned satellite launches for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space program, which has been plagued by a string of failures. The Revolutionary Guard, Iran’s paramilitary force, has its own parallel program, which successfully launched a satellite into space last year.
Conducting a launch during the Vienna negotiations suits Tehran’s hardline negotiating stance, which has previously termed six prior rounds of diplomacy as a “draught,” irritating Western nations. Germany’s new foreign minister has even warned that “time is running out for us at this moment.”
All of this, however, falls with Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi’s reinvigorated focus on space, according to Jeffrey Lewis, a Middlebury Institute of International Follows specialist who studies Tehran’s program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Concerns about alienating the talks with launches that the US claims aid Tehran’s ballistic missile program have likely faded with the departure of Iran’s former President Hassan Rouhani, who shepherded the nuclear deal out of office.
“They’re not walking on eggshells,” Lewis pointed out. “I believe Raisi’s folks have a new equilibrium in mind.”
Iranian official media gives no comment
The action at the spaceport was not acknowledged by Iranian official media, and Iran’s representation to the United Nations did not reply to a request for comment. Requests for a response from the US military, which tracks space launches, were not returned.
Planet Labs Inc. satellite photographs acquired by The Associated Press show activity at the spaceport in the desert plains of Iran’s rural Semnan region, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of Tehran.
A support vehicle was positioned next to a big white gantry, which normally houses a rocket on the launchpad. That support truck has featured in prior satellite images taken at the launch site immediately before a launch. A hydraulic crane with a railed platform is also seen, as seen before prior launches and most likely used to service the rocket.
Zafar 2 in the final stages
Other satellite photographs from the spaceport in recent days have revealed an increase in the number of automobiles at the site, another evidence of the increased activity that generally accompanies a launch. A structure thought to be a rocket “checkout” facility has also experienced increased activity, according to Lewis.
The action comes after Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported on December 5 that the country’s space program had four satellites ready for flight. One, the low-orbit imaging satellite Zafar 2, was characterized as being “in the final stages of construction.” Zafar, which means “victory” in Farsi, is 113 kilos in weight (250 pounds).
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