Iran Space Program

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Iran has become the Middle East’s most advanced country in space technology. And one of its latest space technology achievements is the successful launch of its satellite carrying vehicle Simorgh.

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Narration: Iran is one of the few countries in the world capable of putting satellites into orbit using their own launch vehicles. The Islamic Republic’s space program is young but is rapidly making progress. The nation has emerged as the Middle East’s most advanced in space technology, with its scientific achievements in the field dazzling international observers. Iran’s space agency has expressed interest in cooperating with leading international space agencies and even eyes cooperation with America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration-NASA. The Islamic Republic believes space technology will help it improve its navigation and telecommunications infrastructure. Furthermore, as a country prone to powerful earthquakes, Iran wants to utilize the technology to enhance its capabilities to monitor natural disasters. One of the latest strides Iran has made in the space field is the launch of its Simorgh satellite carrying rocket. The satellite carrying vehicle blasted off in July from a new space center and permanent launch site.

Space technology has been around for several decades. The Soviet Union and the United States were the pioneering countries in the field. In 1961, Soviet pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel to outer space in his Vostok spacecraft. Years later, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon during the Appolo 11 lunar mission. The development of space technology over the years has been full of sweet moments of triumph and bitter taste of tragedy. Almost five decades after the first man walked on the moon, human desire to know more about space and make use of it remains very strong. The past decades have seen countless manned and robotic space missions aimed at advancing scientific research and national prestige among other objectives.

Space technology has made human life easier and continues to do so. It is helping governments provide many critical everyday services like weather forecasting, Global Positioning and satellite broadcasting. It has also significantly enhanced long distance communications systems. And new high tech applications emerge almost every day. Ambitious space missions push the boundaries of technology development and provide a platform to transfer the advancements to other areas. Many developed countries which have a long history in space research are utilizing their findings and breakthroughs in different fields like in medicine and heavy industries. This has led even some less developed countries to independently pursue this science as a path to sustainable development.

Iran was among the founding members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The UN committee was established by the General Assembly in late 1950’s. It’s tasked with governing space exploration and activity to promote development, peace and security.

Iran’s Space Agency was established in 2004 to lead efforts concerning the peaceful uses of space technology. The agency is working under the supervision of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.

It was in 2009 when Iran became one of the members of an elite club known as orbital-launch-capable-nations. That year, the Islamic Republic successfully launched its first domestically manufactured satellite into orbit. The Omid or Hope was a telecommunication and research satellite that was carried on an Iranian-made Safir rocket. Iranian authorities said the launch marked the beginning of a new era in Iran’s space activity meant to meet the needs of the nation. Ever since Iran has put several other satellites into orbit. Iran's most recent successful satellite launch occurred in 2015, when it put its ‘Fajr’ or ‘dawn’ imaging satellite into orbit. The country is developing a vast array of more advanced satellites for future launches.

As Iran develops more sophisticated satellites, some of which are heavier than the early models, it needs more powerful launch vehicles. The country has produced several types of carrying rockets. Iran successfully launched its most advanced satellite carrying rocket Simorgh or phoenix on July 27.

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Narration: The 27 meter long rocket is powered by four main engines. And a fifth one helps with attitude control. The new carrying vehicle is able to lift satellites weighing 250 kilograms and put them into an orbit about 500 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. This is considered a major breakthrough. It shows how the space program has moved forward because Iran’s first carrying vehicle Safir could only lift a fifty kilogram load and put it into an orbit of about 250 kilometers. Space scientists also believe Simorgh has shown higher reliability compared to previous models.

The July launch of Simorgh was the first carried out by Iran’s Imam Khomeini National Space Center in Semnan, some 220 kilometers east of the capital Tehran. The space center is home to Iran’s first fixed launch pad. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quick to hail the achievement. The president wrote in a message that “Space science and technology are of great importance to us, and the more we push forward in these and other scientific areas, the more powerful and dignified we will be,” Rouhani said the landmark Iran nuclear deal which removed Western sanctions, has brought about new opportunity for scientific progress.

“In the post-JCPOA era, we have the opportunity to take note from others' experience while relying on the hard work of our own experts and scientists to earn achievements that ultimately boost national development,”

Since US president Donald Trump took office in January, the United States has taken a much more hawkish stance on Iran. Trump, who’s been highly critical of the nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, has been seeking options to increase pressure on Iran. He has ordered his administration to find areas where the U-S can use to pile pressure on Tehran. Soon after Iran launched its Simorgh space rocket, the U-S treasury department imposed a new set of sanctions on the country. Washington said the rocket launch violated a UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to twitter to defend the Iranian space program. He argued that Iran never develops missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons as banned by the UN Security Council.

The new U.S. sanctions targeted six Iranian firms said to have ties with Iran’s missile program. The Pentagon claims the Simorgh rocket could “shorten a pathway” to making an intercontinental ballistic missile. But many observers oppose that view and insist the space program has no military dimension.

SOUNDBITE [English] Mike Harris, Editor of Veterans Today: “According to the Iran nuclear agreement here, this is not a violation. I don’t believe it’s provocative and that Iran is not developing platforms to deliver nuclear weapons. What the U.S. is looking at is their own path of development, how they developed the ICBMs by using the space program to develop the platform they currently use for their own inter-continental ballistic missiles.”

Narration: Iran has a long term plan to develop its space industry. Top officials in Tehran have repeatedly said that US coercion and pressure tactics will never undermine Iran’s resolve. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the West has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. The West even intensified its hostile measures in recent years. But the significant advancements in the Islamic Republic’s space program and other scientific areas have further revealed the ineffectiveness of Western pressure on Iran. The latest U-S sanctions and any similar future measures are highly unlikely to be able to derail Iran’s drive for scientific progress.


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