As regional tensions escalate, Iran launches satellite as part of Western-criticized program

As regional tensions escalate, Iran launches satellite as part of Western-criticized program

As regional tensions escalate, Iran launches satellite as part of Western-criticized program

Iran announced on Saturday that it had successfully launched a satellite into its highest orbit to date, part of a program that the West fears will enhance Tehran’s ballistic missile arsenal.

The announcement was made just days after Iran and Pakistan exchanged tit-for-tat airstrikes in their respective nations, and at a time when Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip is causing tensions throughout the wider Middle East.

A three-stage rocket was used to launch the Soraya satellite into an orbit that was approximately 750 kilometers (460 miles) above Earth’s surface, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. It didn’t react to what the satellite did right away.

The launch was part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ space programme alongside Iran’s civilian space program, the report said.

There was no immediate independent confirmation Iran had successfully put the satellite in orbit.

The United States has previously said Iran’s satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and called on Tehran to undertake no activity involving ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. UN sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile programme expired last October.

The US intelligence community’s 2023 worldwide threat assessment said the development of satellite launch vehicles shortens the timeline for Iran to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile because it uses similar technology.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles can be used to deliver nuclear weapons. Iran’s nuclear programme now enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers.

Tehran has enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons, if it chooses to produce them, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly has warned.

Iran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons and says its space programme, like its nuclear activities, is for purely civilian purposes. However, US intelligence agencies and the IAEA say Iran had an organised military nuclear programme up until 2003. The involvement of the Guard in the launches, as well as it being able to launch the rocket from a mobile launcher, raise concerns for the West.

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. 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 then-President Donald Trump, who taunted Iran with a tweet showing what appeared to be a US surveillance photo of the site.

In December, Iran sent a capsule into orbit capable of carrying animals as it prepares for human missions in the coming years.

(with inputs from The Associated Press)