Iran poised to join space race as satellite images reveal launch plans

Iran: Expert hints at possibility of war with the west

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The take-off, which is tipped to happen at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport, comes after Iranian state media published a list of upcoming planned satellite launches in the works for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space program. But these were beset by a series of failed launches. And last year, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which runs its own parallel program, successfully blasted a satellite into orbit.

This also comes as Iranian officials are meeting EU and US negotiators in Vienna to try and revive the 2015 nuclear deal so Iran can limit its uranium enrichment programme.

Performing a space launch while the Vienna talks go ahead fits the hard-line posture struck by Tehran’s negotiators and could exacerbate the tensions between Iran and the West.

The new Iranian administration has already described six previous rounds of diplomacy as a “draft”, sending the West into a fury as they scramble to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities.

The US claims that Iran’s satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear

But Iran has argued that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.

It also claims says it has not violated the UN resolution as it only “called upon” Tehran not to conduct such tests.

The latest satellite images taken on Saturday by Planet Labs Inc show activity at the spaceport in the desert plains of the rural Semnan province in Iran, around 240 kilometres (150 miles) southeast of the capital, Tehran.

A support vehicle was spotted parked next to a huge white gantry that normally houses a rocket on the launchpad.

That support vehicle has also been snapped in other satellite pictures at the site just before a launch.

A hydraulic crane with a railed platform likely used to service the rocket can also be seen in the satellite images and has also been seen before previous launches.

And other recent satellite images at the spaceport show an increase in the number of cars at the facility, again suggesting the possibility of the increased activity expected before a big space launch.

Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies Tehran’s program, said a building also believed to be the “checkout” facility for a rocket has seen increased activity as well.

He said: “This is fairly traditional pre-launch activity.”

Mr Lewis also believed that Iran’s suspected move fits into a renewed focus on space by Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi.

He said: “They’re not walking on eggshells.

“I think Raisi’s people have a new balance in mind.”

This also comes as China and Russia have been competing with the US in a renewed space race as tension in the cosmos heats up.

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The Biden administration suspects Chinese satellites are being used for non-civilian purposes after US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) described China as a “near-peer competitor”.

It warns: “Beijing is working to match or exceed US capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership.”

And Russia, who had previously worked closely with the Americans in space, seemed to be strengthening its co-operation with Beijing after announcing plans to co-build an international lunar research station.

While Iran may not yet have the same space capabilities as the other powers, President Raisi has stressed a “determination of this government to develop the space industry”.

Under the new President, Iran’s Supreme Council of Space has met for the first time in 11 years, according to a recent report by state-run television.

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