Report: Iran preparing another satellite launch

Satellite images show Iran appears to be preparing another satellite launch after twice failing to put one in orbit.

Elad Benari ,

Safir satellite-carrier rocket for carrying Iran's Omid Satellite
Safir satellite-carrier rocket for carrying Iran's Omid Satellite

Iran appears to be preparing another satellite launch after twice failing this year to put one in orbit, The Associated Press reported on Sunday.

Satellite images of the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran's Semnan province this month show increased activity at the site, as heightened tensions persist between Washington and Tehran over its collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, according to the report.

While Iran routinely only announces such launches after the fact, that activity coupled with an official saying a satellite would soon be handed over to the country's Defense Ministry suggests the attempt will be coming soon.

"The Imam Khomeini space launch center is usually quite empty," Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, told AP. "Now we've seen pictures where you can see activities at this assembly center and something happening at the (launch) pad."

"If you put both together it sounds very likely there's something that's going to happen," he said.

The satellite images of the space center, taken August 9, show activity at one facility there, Hinz said Sunday. Another image of a launch pad at the facility shows water that's run off it and pooled, likely a sign of workers preparing the site for a launch, he added.

In January, Iran attempted to launch a satellite into space but failed when the satellite failed to reach orbit.

The launch came despite US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s warning to Iran to cease its efforts to develop ballistic missiles. Pompeo demanded that Iran drop its plans for a space launch, saying such actions would defy UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

Resolution 2231, which the US says Iran violates with its ballistic missile tests, enshrined Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The resolution says Iran is “called upon” to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 claimed it launched a monkey into space.

Its ballistic missile program has been a cause for concern for the US and was one of the reasons cited by President Donald Trump when he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in May of last year.

Last month, Iran successfully test-fired a Shehab-3 medium-range ballistic missile.

The Islamic Republic denies its tests violate Resolution 2231. Its President Hassan Rouhani has stressed in the past that Iran will continue to produce missiles for its defense and does not consider that a violation of international agreements.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment Sunday about the apparently forthcoming Iranian launch.