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Iran confirms rocket launch coming

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – Iran acknowledged yesterday it plans two tests for its new solid-fuelled rocket after satellite photos showed preparations at a desert launch pad previously used in the programme, even as tensions remain high over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear programme.

Iran will launch its satellite-carrying Zuljanah rocket twice more after conducting a previous launch, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Defence Ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini as saying. He did not elaborate on a timeframe for the tests, nor said when the previous launch occurred.

Each of the Zuljanah’s three stages will be evaluated during the tests, Hosseini said.

Satellite images taken on Tuesday by Maxar Technologies showed preparations at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.

One set of images showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower. A later image on Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket apparently on the tower.

Though it isn’t clear when the launch will take place, erecting a rocket typically means a launch is imminent. NASA fire satellites, which detect flashes of light from space, did not immediately see any activity over the site late on Tuesday night into yesterday.

A rocket preparing to be erected at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran. PHOTO: AP

Asked about the preparations, United States (US) State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the US urged Iran to de-escalate the situation.

“Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions. It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions,” Price said.

Pentagon spokesman US Army Major Rob Lodewick, said the American military “will continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile programme”.

“Iranian aggression, to include the demonstrated threat posed by its various missile programmes, continues to be a top concern for our forces in the region,” Lodewick said.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The programme has seen recent troubles, however.

There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh programme, a type of satellite-carrying rocket. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.

The launch pad used in Tuesday’s preparations remains scarred from an explosion in August 2019.

Satellite images from February suggested a failed Zuljanah launch earlier this year, though Iran did not acknowledge it.

The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s programme. There’s been no evidence offered, however, to show foul play in any of the failures, and space launches remain challenging even for the world’s most successful programmes.

Meanwhile, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space programme by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The Guard launched another satellite this March at another site in Semnan province, just east of the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies John Krzyzaniak had predicted on Tuesday that Iran would test another Zuljanah. Krzyzaniak earlier this week suggested a launch was imminent based on activity at the site.

Iranian state television aired footage of a successful Zuljanah launch in February 2021.

The US has alleged that Iran’s satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The US intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment claims such a satellite launch vehicle “shortens the timeline” to an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran.

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