Iran announced on Wednesday that it had successfully launched an imaging satellite into space, raising concerns among Western nations over the country’s space technology potentially being used for developing nuclear weapons. Iran’s Communication Minister, Isa Zarepour, stated that the Noor-3 satellite was placed in an orbit 450 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The precise date of the launch was not disclosed.
No confirmation or acknowledgment of the launch has been received from Western officials, and the U.S. military has not issued a comment yet. Iran has faced several failed launches in recent years. In contrast, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, responsible for the most recent launch, has had more success. Gen. Hossein Salami, the top commander of the Guard, referred to the launch as a “victory” and highlighted that the satellite would collect data and images.
Footage released by the authorities showed a rocket taking off without disclosing the location. However, the details in the video corresponded to a Guard base near Shahroud, northeast of Tehran. This base is situated in Semnan province, which houses the Imam Khomeini Spaceport, from where Iran conducts its civilian space program. It is important to note that the Guard operates independently and reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran previously launched its first satellite into space in April 2020, although the U.S. Space Command dismissed it as a “tumbling webcam in space” with no significant intelligence capabilities. Western sanctions prevent Iran from importing advanced spying technology. The United States has accused Iran of defying a U.N. Security Council resolution with its satellite launches and has urged Tehran to refrain from any activity involving ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
While Iran has consistently denied seeking nuclear weapons and maintains that its space program has purely civilian purposes, the U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment claims that the development of satellite launch vehicles could potentially expedite Iran’s progress in building an intercontinental ballistic missile, as similar technologies are used.
Over the past decade, Iran has successfully placed several short-lived satellites into orbit and even launched a monkey into space in 2013. However, the country has faced difficulties with its Simorgh program, experiencing five consecutive failed launches. In the past, Iran’s space program has suffered setbacks, including a fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 that resulted in the deaths of three researchers.
Tensions between Iran and Western nations are already high due to Iran’s advancing nuclear program. After the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran, efforts to revive the agreement have reached an impasse. The International Atomic Energy Agency has stated that Iran has enough enriched uranium to potentially develop several nuclear weapons. Iran is also constructing a new underground nuclear facility that would likely be resistant to airstrikes. Both the U.S. and Israel have expressed the willingness to take military action if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran has indicated that it is open to returning to the 2015 nuclear deal but insists on the U.S. easing sanctions as a precondition.