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Iran Plans Bigger and Better Rockets

Iranian officials say they are building a new launch vehicle to take heavier satellites higher - but is that what its really intended for?
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 2/14/2012, 10:54 PM

Satellite Launch
Satellite Launch
NASA Photo

Iran says its new launch vehicles will take heavier satellites higher by 2013.

According to officials in Tehran, the Islamic Republic plans to send the Tolou (Rise) and Fajr (Dawn) satellites into orbit and improve satellite launchers to this end. 

Iran claims it would be able to put satellites into orbit of up to 36000 km with the Safir B1 two-stage rocket, which they say is capable of launching satellites weighing more than 60 kg to 350-450 km

Tehran is also developing the Simorgh two-stage rocket, which would be capable capable of carrying satellites with 100 kg to 50 km orbit.

Irans satellites to date have fallen into a class of miniaturized or microsatellites, which are cheaper to build and allow for more inexpensive launch vehicles.

Tehran also planned to launch monkey into space, much as the United States did in the 1960's, by 2020. However, that project has been put on hold.

Iran's space program has raised concerns because the same technology that allows missiles to launch satellites can be used to fire warheads.

The new plans to launch heavier satellites have heightened those concerns because experts say the ability to launch a heavier object farther has nothing to do with improving satellite technology.

Iran's satellites to date have not had a lifespan of more than six months and have had little practical benefit for Tehran. However, the weight of the new satellites Tehran says its new launch vehicles will carry correspond with the weight of a low-yield nuclear weapon.

Israel, the United States, other Western nations, and their Gulf Arabs charge Iran with pursuing a 'secret' nuclear weapons development program.

While Iran denies the charge, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported Iran has sought – and continues to seek – nuclear technology of a military nature.

Iran has agreed to a new round of talks with IAEA officials over its nuclear program in late February. However, many believe Tehran is simply attempting to buy time while its nuclear program continues apace.

It is widely believed Israel, which Iranian leaders have called a "one bomb state" while calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, is mulling a pre-emptive military in the coming months.

Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as a potentially existential threat. Senior Iranian officials have issued repeated calls for Israel’s destruction and backed terror groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah.

Iran also announced Tuesday it was introducing a new nuclear fuel technology despite the financial strain its economy is under due to extensive sanctions from the European Union and United States.