Iran claims to have launched its first military satellite into orbit on Wednesday, according to The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If true, the mission would be Iran’s first successful rocket launch in some time after repeated failed attempts to put a vehicle into space.
News of the launch comes somewhat out of the blue. In the past, Earth-imaging satellites have spotted the country’s launch preparations, but there was no public heads-up about this particular mission. Iran says the satellite, called Noor, took off on top of a relatively unknown rocket called Ghased, or “Messenger,” from Iran’s Central Desert and reached an altitude of 425 kilometers, or 265 miles, above the Earth, according to The Associated Press.
Today’s launch comes just a couple of months after Iran’s failed attempt to launch an Earth-imaging satellite in February. The rocket for that mission took off as planned but was unable to put the satellite into orbit. Iran’s space program also suffered a major setback in August of last year, when a rocket exploded on an Iranian launchpad ahead of a planned mission to space. Following the explosion, President Trump tweeted an incredibly detailed image of the scorched launchpad taken from above, likely taken from a classified spy satellite from the National Reconnaissance Office.
Video from the launch of NOOR satellite on the QASED SLV. Liquid propulsion first stage can be clearly seen. pic.twitter.com/BgmQC0FSdz— Tal Inbar (@inbarspace) April 22, 2020
The US government has long condemned Iran’s space ambitions, claiming that the country could easily use the rocket technology it has developed to create a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. After the launchpad explosion in August, the US instituted new sanctions on Iran’s space program.
“The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programs,” Michael Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said in a statement on September 3rd. “Iran’s August 29 attempt to launch a space launch vehicle underscores the urgency of the threat. These designations should serve as a warning to the international scientific community that collaborating with Iran’s space program could contribute to Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon delivery system.”
The State Department has not yet commented on this latest launch. A spokesperson for the US Space Command confirmed that Iran did actually put something into orbit. “U.S. Space Command is tracking two objects associated with a space launch that originated from Iran,” the spokesperson emailed to The Verge in a statement. “The objects are being analyzed and once confirmed will be incorporated into a publicly available space catalogue on www.space-track.org for Space Domain Awareness and conjunction warnings to support space flight safety.”
This isn’t the first successful satellite launch for Iran. The country put up its first communications satellite in 2009, followed by a few successful launches in the following years. However, Iran has suffered a string of launch failures since 2017.
Iran’s launch comes while the country continues to battle a severe outbreak of COVID-19. The country is currently reporting more than 85,000 cases of the virus and more than 5,000 deaths.
Update April 22nd, 1PM ET: This article was updated to incorporate a statement from US Space Command.