Iran: Looking Towards Space!

Ajey Lele

Apart from its nuclear bravado, Iran is simultaneously exploring new grounds up above in the sky for expanding military influence and that is, space. In early February this year, Iran fired a sounding rocket into the outer space to mark the opening of its first space centre. Such rockets are usually instrument-carrying crafts designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during their sub-orbital flight. Iran also proposes to move a step further by launching their first home-produced satellite "Omid" (Hope) in March 2009. They would be using the same site located in western Iran for this first satellite launch. 2.

Interestingly, one of their vocal diplomats recently criticized India for launching the Israel spy satellite TECSAR. These two acts of Iran bring forward contradictions in their space policies. On one hand Iran feels that India is helping Israel to conduct espionage operations and on the other, they themselves are working towards launching a satellite for military purposes. Experts are of the opinion that Omid satellite is a 10 year project, that has major military dimensions and it could be essentially used for intelligence gathering purposes.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had attended February 04 rocket launch and the opening of their first national space launch center, giving indications that how much Iran values this project. This rocket, which is dubbed as Kavoshgar-1 has a close resemblance to Iran's longer-range missile Shahab-3 having a range of around 2000 km, a range sufficient to handle Israel and US bases in the Gulf.

Incidentally, Iran announced its presence in space during October 28, 2005 with a launch of first Iranian satellite Sinah-1. This satellite was built and launched by Russia from their Plesetsk Space Center. Now, this new space centre which includes an underground control centre and launch pad would boost Iran’s own satellite programme and would help Iran to realize its dreams of becoming a satellite-launching nation.

During last few years Iran is cautiously looking at its own satellite development programme. They understand that the biggest advantage of satellite technology lies in its dual-use nature. They know for sure that the way US is trying to corner them on a nuclear issue, would not be able to do so in respect of their space ambitions. They have Iranian National Committee (INCOPUOS) on Peaceful uses of outer space in place to handle issues related to their space dreams. Today, Iran knows that in the space arena they need to be self reliant. With their nuclear adventurism they may find it difficult to get international support. Even Russia and China could also become cautious to deal with them in the space arena.

Iran’s space probe Kavoshgar-1 has now started sending data back to earth from an altitude of up to 250 km. Since its launch in the first week of February 2008, Kavoshgar has been sending real-time data back to base which Iranian scientists are analysing to check performance of its systems. This probe is expected to return to the earth however its further details are not known. The success of this mission is likely to boost the confidence of the Iranian scientists and the data received during this entire exercise is expected to help them to take their space programme further. 7.

With US forces sitting next door and bullish Israel in the neighborhood Iran needs continuous flow of intelligence inputs and clever investment in satellite technology could offer them a viable option. Iran also has plans to invest in small satellites. Particularly, at the backdrop of Chinese anti-satellite test they could even think of investing in satellite technology as a weapon of deterrence. Looking at their current progress it could be predicted that within half a decade Iran could ‘enlighten’ Israel that they are capable of damaging their satellites by putting ‘space mines’ in form of small satellites into the space.

At the backdrop of these realities it looks very courageous that Iran is blaming India for helping Israel!

Author Note
Ajey Lele, Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi