The Iranian Satellite Rocket Saga

On August 16th, Iran triumphantly announced that they had sent a rocket into space, transporting a “dummy” satellite into orbit. According to Iranian state TV, the night-time launch of the two-stage Safir-e Omid (or Ambassador of Peace) rocket was a resounding success, transmitting video of the launch amid cheers of delight. The nation has never hidden its space ambitions, and in 2005 Iran launched its first commercial satellite on board a Russian rocket. This confirmed concerns of Russia’s co-operation with the Iranian government to bolster the country’s space-faring ability. However, US officials have spoken out against Iranian claims that Saturday’s launch went as planned; according to one official, Iran’s launch was a “dramatic failure.” Regardless, Iran appears to be upbeat about it’s future in space, and today the Iranian Space Organization Chief has announced that Iran will launch a man into space within a decade

Tensions between Iran and the West are edgy to say the least. For one, Iran’s nuclear program is causing obvious upset in the region; neighbouring countries concerned the balance of power is shifting toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime. Israel, in particular, has traded threats with Iran, and its close proximity to Tehran (only 600 miles) only helps to intensify the distrust in the region. Now, if the Iranian claims are to be believed, Ahmadinejad is able to order the launch of domestically built satellites, but more worryingly, this sabre rattling shows to the world they are able to launch long-range ballistic missiles to wherever they like. Combine this missile capability with the pressing nuclear threat (although Iran maintains that the Uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes only), and we have a huge politically unstable situation. The bad blood between the US and Iran is all too obvious, this will only help to increase tensions.

However, the Iranian celebrations may be short lived. It is notoriously difficult to gain any verification that Iran did launch a two-stage rocket into space, let alone carry a “dummy” satellite into orbit. Yesterday, US officials made an announcement claiming that Iran was falsifying the launch and that the rocket failed soon after launch. Looking at the Iranian news footage, we only see the first few seconds of launch, so these doubts are justified.

The vehicle failed shortly after liftoff and in no way reached its intended position. It could be characterized as a dramatic failure […] The failed launch shows that the purported Iranian space program is in its nascent stages at best — they have a long way to go.” – Unnamed US official.

See the Iranian state TV footage of the Safir-e Omid launch (AP) »

Although a failed launch seems highly probable (as we all know, rocket science isn’t easy!), prompting the Iranian government to distribute false information about the “successful” launch to save face, but the US official gives no indication about how the US authorities know the launch was a failure. I think it’s going to be some time before these questions can be answered as neither side will want to reveal too much.

Regardless of the “did it launch or didn’t it” debate, Iran has today announced some pretty lofty plans for their future in space. Iran wants to send a man into space. Within ten years.

According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, the Iranian Space Organization chief Reza Taghipour will set the exact date for a future manned mission within the year. Apparently, “Iran must win the first place in space technology in the region by the Iranian year of 1400 (the equivalent Christian year of 2021),” according to Xinhua (although it is unclear whether the Chinese source is quoting Taghipour or they are stating a fact). Iran also wants to launch a series of ten domestically-built satellites by 2010 to aid disaster relief operations.

Often it is hard to separate the facts from the fiction in the Middle East, but I can’t help but think these invigorated Iranian space ambitions are a ploy to wield their exaggerated military might in the region. Whether the dummy satellite was put into orbit or not seems to be rather academic, the fallout from the Iranian claim and US counter-claim will have severe consequences for US-Iran relations…

Sources: Space, Reuters, Xinhua

24 Replies to “The Iranian Satellite Rocket Saga”

  1. Hi Rue, thank you for alerting me to this. Totally my fault, I misinterpreted some of the source material. I’ve corrected the mistake, thanks.

    Hi Mark, apologies you took offence. It was a silly error on my behalf and it has been corrected. I can assure you 99.9% of my facts are “straight,” but occasionally I slip up. Problem corrected. Hope you enjoyed the rest of the article.

    Cheers, Ian

  2. Ahhh, sounds like the “good old times” when all Soviet launches were either resounding successes – or they “never happened”.

    And if you compare their propaganda with what we know today, say, about their interplanetary program…

  3. Iran is referred to as an “Arab state” in this article. This is incorrect as Arabs only account for 3% of the population.
    Iran’s official language is Persian not Arabic.

  4. Iran is not an Arab state. Before you write an article, get your facts straight. Iran speaks Farsi\Persian and the only Arabs that live there are refugees

  5. About Iran’s nuclear ambitions… Unlike some of its (nuclear-armed) neighbors the country is a member of the NPT and is nuclear program is regularly inspected by the IAEA. Despite the constant boasting by its “president” they’re having serious problems with the refinement cycle. Furthermore, the true leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has denounced nukes as “un-Islamic”. I would be more worried about the existing nukes.

  6. This early in the game for Iran I would consider simply getting off the platform a success.

    Why is it that when other countries have failed missions or don’t make it entirely people claim “Rocket Science is Hard” but when Iran does it people say “Miserable Failure” – like that changes ANYTHING.

  7. Sol has a point we have’nt been the most “supportive” of countries these last eight years, BUT! if you dont agree with Casey that space and military technology are joined at the hip your being dangerously short-sighted my friend. If Iran has the potential to reach space you honestly think they wont try to broaden there influence in the region. Maybe they should maybe Isreal has overstepped its place once to often. Im no genius in world affairs but I do know that when you put all factors in a nuclear Iran is not the best idea for anyone not even Iran itself…

  8. while I don’t trust the iranian president very much either I have to wonder just WHY everybody keeps assuming the worst… The only “evidence” I’ve seen pointing towards a military aspect in the iranian nuclear ambitions was… that they refused *part* of the controls the IAEA wants. controls that, as far as I know, aren’t done in the US, israel, and many other nations either. Also, a lot of the arguments I hear include some version of “he said israel has to be wiped from the map, so he’s clearly a threat” – however, those who translated the speech including this statement later corrected themselves, changing the translation of that part to something like “the zionist government has to be removed” (I’m not a native english speaker, so please excuse the lack of exact citing) – a far less warlike statement, but clearly aimed at a government, not a nation or their people. What he MEANT and what his goals are is up for discussion, I’m just annoyed at people using a mistranslation as their main argument.

    To recap, I’m NOT claiming to know that iran doesn’t aim for military use of nuclear technology and their rockets. I’d just like everybody to take a step back, look at the situation calmly, and ask themselves “if I ignore the propaganda I’ve been fed, am I still 100% sure that iran is an evil terror state that wants nukes to attack us with? or should I rather enjoy hope for another nation to join us in our quest for space?”

    I mean, seriously. They didn’t find osama in any of the caves they bombed in afghanistan, and they didn’t find WMDs in irak either. You’d think people would start taking what Bush’s government says with a grain of salt.

  9. “Often it is hard to separate the facts from the fiction in the Middle East, but I can’t help but think these invigorated Iranian space ambitions are a ploy to wield their exaggerated military might in the region.”

    Perhaps…but I think the real point lurking in this comment is that Middle East/East worldviews are quite different than West worldviews. This creates very different orientations in space, science and research programmes. Yes, Iran’s behavioral track record would lead to the conclusion that you suggested. But overall, the reality is that we will see actual advances from such countries in space/science/research…just a matter of time. What concerns me is that there may never be any real common ground for us to dialogue (because our worldviews are profoundly different). This will prove a considerable challenge (as we are now seeing in the potential problems with sharing ISS with Russia) in sharing orbital space, moon research, Mars, etc.

  10. I hate the way people assume the worst when it comes to iran. I think its great to have another nation joining the space game.

  11. Why do ppl hv to mix space exploration with politics?
    Space exploration is one thing and the nuclear plan is another, why mix them up??
    It is not fair to the Iranians to be asked to stop their space plans just b/c the US doesn’t like them…
    Space is a freeland for any country, any nation or any individual to explore, why bail out one certain nation?
    Also, I think it is not fair for one nation to not allow space exploration to begin in another nation just because the former one doesn’t like the latter one.
    The more brains we put into the investigation of the Universe, the more answers we will get; it’s that simple!

  12. Wow, The naievity of some of the above comments is remarkable.

    One of the greatest things about space exploration programs is that they lead to technologies applicable to other areas.
    However, this is not an unknown factor and one of the main reasons that NASA and other space agencies were developed was for military reasons such as developing ballistic missile technology to deliver nuclear weapons.

    You can claim peaceful space exploration all you want, but you are at best incredibly short-sighted and at worst naieve to the point of having no understanding of human nature if you think that a country which develops missile technology for ‘space exploration’ will not then develop it for military purposes.

    Oh yeah, and call me a war mongering American if you like, but we’re talking about Iran possibly having nuclear weapons here. You know, the same Iran that has no qualms about state funding of terrorism and suicide bombings, not to mention an ‘our religion or else’ mentality towards the world. And these are nukes we’re talking about, as in kill all of your enemy in one shot, lingering radiation and death for miles around, the most deadly weapons mankind has made so far, nuclear weapons. Myabe it’s just me, but I don’t feel comfortable allowing a country such as Iran to develop either nukes or the ability to deliver them with a missile. And mistranslations about intentions towards Israel notwithstanding (and the one referred to above was hardly the only instance of such threats), there is no love lost between the two countries.

    Sorry about the length, but to conclude; space exploration is NOT a right, it is a privledge. By necessity the amazing process of exploring the cosmos involves technologies with huge potentials for war and destruction. If others are worried your country is going to use those technologies against them or their allies, they have every right slap you down and keep you from reaching space.

  13. I’m sorry Casey you were talking about America just there right?

    Nukes, funding terrorism, our religion or else?

    If your nation didn’t have nukes and actually the balls to use them then your comment would be acceptable.

    I don’t trust America more than Iran or Russia…Afterall invading two countries in 2 years time is fact ; that Iran wants to blow the whole world up is a neocon supposition. Iran is where civilization was born on this planet. Iran is not Taleban country. They are educated & welcoming people. And they have the right to hate israel as much as americans have the right to hate iran.

    Stop repeating CNN christian necon propagandic paranioa it’s really getting boring for us non-americans…

  14. Let Iran into space. Help them even.

    That way they can move to a colony off-world and we won’t have to risk the neocons starting a nuclear war because of Ahmadinejad’s big mouth.

  15. Actually, the “neocons” have been pursuing a diplomatic solution within the UN and recently turned down Israeli requests for weapons to attack Iran. I expect things to be resolved the same way the N Korea nukes were handled. Funny how the “neocons” don’t get credit for that.

  16. While everyone is worried about missiles, nukes, asteroids, global warming, North Korea, Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, on and on, the price of oil goes up. Its just a distraction, while our pockets is being picked!

  17. @Tyler

    I don’t buy it when people try and define conservative. The very basis of the conservative movement is that progress is bad. Conservatives do NOT want NASA. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be labeled a conservative unless they want to continue to pretend its the late 19th century and America is still up for grabs.

  18. ^ RL:

    You have a problem with the term “neocon?” It’s how most of the warhawks in office describe themselves – neoconservative, “new” conservative.

    Meaning they are conservative when it comes to morals and religious issues (though they rarely practice what they preach), but they’re far from conservative when it comes to spending, or military action, or the expansion of government power.

    The only reason we haven’t attacked Iran the way they wanted to is that we’re overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq as it is. Should we pull out of Iraq I fully expect them to declare war with Iran.

  19. I don’t agree at all with your belief that we would struck Iran if we were not in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US has plenty of assets left over to devestate Iran but it’s not in our interest and this administration has pursued diplomacy with Iran and N Korea.

    I don’t have a problem with the term neocons normally but its now invoked by people who don’t really keep up on events or think from all sides about an event. It’s become a buzz word for knee jerk Bush haters.

    I’d also point out that most of the “neocons” have left government or have lost influence. This was very well document since Rumsfeld left.

  20. I watch events very closely. The only reason that this criminal bunch have not faced prosecution for their crimes is that they have padded the DOJ with Bush admin devotees (Alberto Gonzalez scandal), the Supreme Court with toe-the-line conservatives, covered up the Valerie Plame scandal’s evidence, and from day one had an almost cult-like selectiveness in the administration’s cabinet.

    They’ve got a great deal of love from Fox News and the other right-wing media adherents who have encouraged millions of Americans to turn a blind eye. Nixon has got to be rolling in his grave to consider the kinds of things they’ve been able to get away with. He got popped for a petty burglary. These people routinely torture, invent evidence to bring the nation to war, violate the Constitutional rights of Americans, and smile and acknowledge it all openly.

    Although the number who still buy the BS is declining steadily (support is down to around 30% or lower).

    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the Democrats are really any better, only that this current adminstration has been particularly aggregious in their activities. The Democrats voted for the war, they continue to vote to fund it and continue it, and they’ve toed the line on basically every invasion of privacy /anti-civil liberty law that’s been introduced in the last 7 years.

    The problem is that both parties are essentially controlled by the massive amounts of campaign contributions that they receive. You don’t pay millions to a candidate without expecting something in return. I’m not advocating third parties (they’ll never win!) but it would be nice if we could abolish parties altogether and vote for the candidate’s stance on the issues, not a D or R beside their name. Limiting the amount you can spend on a campaign to a reasonable amount would help too.

    The current admin is basically “dead in the water” in expanding the powers of government and committing new atrocities, but the fact remains that they have not been held liable in the least. The ones who have left were scapegoats forced to resign.

  21. And yes, it is currently impossible to instigate a ground war with Iran, without removing troops from posts worldwide and destabilizing other regions. We could bomb the hell out of them if we chose (“bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” as McCain so eloquently sang to the tune of the Beach Boys.

    But there’s no way we could win a ground war against them without freeing up troops from the Iraq war.

  22. I think its great that Iran is starting a space program, the ancient Persians 1000 years ago made great advances in astronomy, I feel that the negative media directed at Iran is unjustified as it doesn’t reflect the opinions and feelings of the general people who happen to be really warm and friendly and the translation for the “wipe off the map” was actually mistranslated, it was something like “remove the zionist regime from the pages of time”. I’m guessing this comment was the result of the atrocities being committed by Israelis. So Iran might launch missiles from space but its alright for America to build space bombers that will be deployable in 2018? I fear that this century will be dedicated to more bloodshed and misery rather than hope and knowledge.

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