Iran May Be Entering the Space Race. Should We Worry?

On the heels of its military's success.
Can Emir
First launch of the Zoljanah SLV.Fars News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

Iran seems to be preparing for a space launch, according to an expert commenting on new satellite images.

The satellite images, which show activity at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Semnan province, 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Tehran, were taken by Planet Labs Inc and obtained by the Associated Press.

Said images include a support vehicle that is parked at the side of a gantry that usually houses a rocket and a hydraulic crane with a railed platform, which was seen before previous launches.

Iran May Be Entering the Space Race. Should We Worry?
Satellite images. Source: Planet Labs

The likely blast off at the spaceport comes as Iranian state media has offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches in the works for the country’s civilian space program, which were beset by a series of failed launches.

Iranian state media did not acknowledge and cover the activity at the spaceport and Iran's mission to the United Nations (UN) did not respond to a request for comment yet. 

“This advancement fits into a renewed focus on space of Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi” said James Lewis, an expert who studies Iran’s space program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and added, "They're not walking on eggshells. I think Raisi's people have a new balance in mind."

Recently other satellite images of the spaceport have pointed out an increase in the number of vehicles at the facility, showing heightened activity that usually happens before a launch. A building also believed to be the “checkout” facility for a rocket has seen increased activity that looks like a pre-launch activity as well, said Lewis.

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Activity at the spaceport comes after Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA announced Iran’s space program had four ready to launch satellites on December 5. In the article, it was said that Zafar 2, a low-orbit imaging satellite weighing 250 lbs (113 kg), was under the final phase of preparations.

The previous launch of a similar satellite, Zafar 1, has failed to enter orbit at the correct speed in February 2021 according to officials. The orbit was launched with a Simorg (Phoenix) rocket and cost a little shy of 2 million Euros.

On the other hand, Iran's Revolutionary Guard, the armed forces of the country, runs its own parallel space program that successfully launched and put a satellite into orbit last year. The head of the U.S. Space Command commented on the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that wouldn’t provide vital intelligence. Nevertheless, it showed Iran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.

Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit in the last decade, even launching a monkey into space.

Raisi preciously said that the government is determined to develop its own space industry, back in November 2021.

With China and the UAE already at Mars, it's only a matter of time until the rest of the world follows.

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