Iran has announced it successfully launched the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite after months of failures, a programme the United States alleges is a cover for missile development.
“The first satellite of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been successfully launched into orbit by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC],” said the elite forces’ official website on Wednesday.
It said the satellite – dubbed the Nour – was deployed from the Qassed two-stage launcher from the Markazi desert, a vast expanse in Iran’s central plateau.
The satellite “orbited the Earth at 425km [264 miles]”, said the website. “This action will be a great success and a new development in the field of space for Islamic Iran.”
The IRGC called it the first military satellite ever launched by Tehran. It used a Ghased, or “Messenger”, satellite carrier to put the device into space, a previously unheard-of system.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and historically low oil prices, the missile launch may signal a new willingness to take risks by Iran.
“This raises a lot of red flags,” said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
“Now that you have the [US] maximum pressure campaign, Iran doesn’t have that much to lose any more.”
Hinz said, based on state media images, the launch appeared to have happened at a previously unnamed IRGC base near Shahroud, Iran, some 330km (205 miles) northeast of Tehran. The base is in Semnan province, which hosts the Imam Khomeini Spaceport, from which Iran’s civilian space programme operates.
Navigating armed forces
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the capital Tehran, said it was the first time the IRGC took credit for the launch of a military satellite.
“As a military satellite, what we’re likely to see is this to be used specifically for intelligence gathering and secure communications for the navigation of forces on land and sea,” he said.
Tehran has had several failed satellite launches in recent months. The last one came in February when Iran failed to put its Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit.