TEHRAN, Jan 15, (Agencies): An Iranian satellite-carrying rocket blasted off into space on Tuesday, but scientists failed to put the device into orbit in a launch previously criticized by the United States as helping the Islamic Republic further develop its ballistic missile program.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged that Iran’s space program could help it develop a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon to the mainland US, criticism that comes amid the Trump administration’s maximalist approach against Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. Tehran also says they don’t violate a United Nations resolution that only “called upon” it not to conduct such tests. The rocket carrying the Payam satellite failed to reach the “necessary speed” in the third stage of its launch, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said.
Jahromi said the rocket had successfully passed its first and second stages before developing problems in the third. That suggests something went wrong after the rocket pushed the satellite out of the Earth’s atmosphere. He did not elaborate on what caused the failure, but promised that Iranian scientists would continue their work.
Iran had said that it plans to send two nonmilitary satellites, Payam and Doosti, into orbit. The Payam, which means “message” in Farsi, was an imagery satellite that Iranian officials said would help with farming and other activities. It’s unclear how the failure of the Payam will affect the launch timing for the Doosti, which means “friendship.” Jahromi wrote on Twitter that “Doosti is waiting for orbit,” without elaborating.
Tuesday’s launch took place at Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan province, a facility under the control of the country’s Defense Ministry, Jahromi said. Satellite images published last week and first reported by CNN showed activity at the launch site. Given the facility’s launching corridor, the satellite likely fell in the Indian Ocean. Iranian state television aired footage of its reporter narrating the launch of the Simorgh rocket, shouting over its roar that it sent “a message of the pride, self-confidence and willpower of Iranian youth to the world!”
The TV footage shows the rocket becoming just a pinpoint of light in the darkened sky and not the moment of its failure. The Simorgh, meaning “phoenix” in Farsi, has been used in previous satellite launches. It is larger than an earlier model known as the Safir, or “ambassador,” that Iran previously used to launch satellites. Ahmad Motamedi, the lor of Tehran Amirkabir University of Technology, which designed the satellite, told the semi-official Mehr news agency that Jahromi already has ordered them to design another satellite.
“Now, we have earned plenty of experience and we will be able to make a new satellite quicker,” he said. Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.