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New Satellite Imagery Shows Iran Preparing for Rocket Launch

The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

The Islamic Republic appears to be preparing for a space launch of a rocket Tuesday as tensions between the regime and the West remain high, according to recent satellite images from Maxar Technologies. 

The recent photos show a standard launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in the Semnan province, a launching site known to have frequent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.

In one set of images, a transporter carrying a rocket was preparing to place the projectile on the launch tower, which was then later placed on it late Tuesday afternoon. While the regime did not acknowledge a future launch at the space port, the recent revelations come as the country’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) stated in May that Iran would have several homemade satellites ready to launch into orbit by the end of the Persian calendar year in March 2023. 

An Iranian Defense Ministry official also suggested that the country could assess its new solid-fueled satellite carrying rocket, known as the Zulijanah.

The actions by Tehran to erect a rocket means that a launch is imminent, but officials are not indicating when such an event would occur. 

The State Department told reporters in Washington that America urges the Islamic Republic to de-escalate the situation and that such potential actions are considered provocative. 

Pentagon official Major Rob Lodewick stated the American army will continue to monitor the Islamic government’s search for viable space launch technology and its relation to any advancements in the regime’s ballistic missile program.

In the past decade, scientists working for the Islamic Republic have tried repeatedly to send several short-lived satellites into orbit but have had little success. Overall, there have been five failed launches in a row for Iran’s satellite-carrying rocket program, with one instance resulting in a fire at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 and the deaths of three researchers. The same launchpad drew attention of then-President Donald Trump who tweeted a surveillance image of the launch failure to indicate that the U.S. was aware of the regime’s desire to launch a satellite into orbit.

The past failures of Iran’s space program have raised suspicion of regime officials who blame outside interference, providing no evidence to show foul play in any of the instances. 

In April 2020, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) revealed its own secret space program, launching a satellite into orbit successfully.

National security and foreign policy experts believe that Iran is preparing for the Zuljanah test launch with some suggesting that such action was imminent based on the newly revealed activity at the site.

The preparation for the rocket’s launch comes as one of the IRGC’s soldiers were “martyred’ in the Semnan province under uncertain circumstances over the weekend. American officials have repeatedly stated that such satellite actions from the Islamic regime defies a previous U.N. Security Council which called for Iran to not engage in any activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. American intelligence agency is familiar with Iran and its military capabilities argue that a successful satellite vehicle would help shorten Iran’s timeline in obtaining an intercontinental ballistic missile for the IRGC.

For its part, Israel has threatened to conduct a preemptive strike against Iran and has been suspected of a series of recent killings against high-level IRGC officials in past weeks. Israel has long kept an eye on Iran’s space program and its launch of military grade rockets, calling on the international community to take the matter seriously before it is too late.

While the regime and its officials have repeatedly stated that it does not seek nuclear weapons and has maintained that its satellite systems and rockets do not have military components, Iran’s likely preparations have heightened the recent ongoing negotiations between the West and the regime over its nuclear program. In the past few days, Iran has vowed to remove numerous IAEA surveillance cameras from nuclear sites, continuing to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The Biden administration and the Islamic regime have insisted that they are willing to re-enter the 2015 nuclear agreement, which outlines the need for the Islamic Republic to curb its nuclear enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. The two parties have been unable to come to a consensus on the agreement, given the demands from Iranian officials that many have described as outrageous.