Iran plans to send a live monkey into space in the summer, the country's top space official said after the successful launch of the Rassad-1 satellite, state television reported on its website on Thursday.

"The Kavoshgar-5 rocket will be launched during the month of Mordad (July 23 to August 23) with a 285-kilogramme capsule carrying a monkey to an altitude of 120 kilometers (74 miles)," said Hamid Fazeli, head of Iran's Space Organization.

In February, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a space capsule designed to carry a live monkey into space, along with four new prototypes of home-built satellites the country hopes to launch before March 2012.

At the time, Fazeli touted the launch of a large animal into space as the first step towards sending a man into space, which Tehran says is scheduled for 2020. Iran sent a rat, turtles and worms into space aboard its Kavoshgar-3 rocket in 2010.

The Islamic Republic's first space-monkey would follow in the footsteps of space pioneers like Ham, the chimpanzee launched into space by the United Sates on January 31, 1961 some fifty years ago.

Fajr reconnaissance satellite
Fazeli also announced Iran's plans for the launch in October of the Fajr reconnaissance satellite with "a life span of a year and a half, and to be placed at an altitude of 400 kilometres," the website reported.

On Wednesday, the Islamic republic successfully put its Rassad-1 (Observation-1) satellite into orbit 260 kilometres above the Earth. Rassad-1, which orbits the Earth 15 times every 24 hours and has a two-month life cycle, will be used to photograph the planet and transmit images, media reports said.

Originally scheduled to launch in August 2010, the satellite was built by Malek Ashtar University in Tehran, which is linked to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran, which first put a satellite into orbit in 2009, has outlined an ambitious space program amid Western concerns.

Western fears
Israel, the United States, and other western allies fear Iran's space program may be intended as a basis for developing ballistic missile capability enabling the delivery of nuclear warheads.

The Safir-2 rocket Iran uses to put satellites into orbit has been described by Western observers as "very similar" to ballistic missiles. 

Tehran has repeatedly denied that its contentious nuclear and scientific programs mask military ambitions.