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.
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…