Iran’s Satellites to Extend Ballistic Missile Range

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Iran recently announced that it has deployed three satellites into space using its notoriously unreliable “Simorgh” (“Pheonix”) rockets. The launch has been widely criticized by the West, with claims that the new satellites present a significant milestone toward improving Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities.

Iranian press reports that onboard the rocket were three domestically-produced satellites named “Mahda” (allegedly a research satellite), “Kayhan-2,” and “Hatef-1” (nanosatellites designed for global positioning and communication).

According to Interesting Engineering, Iran’s civilian space program has faced several setbacks in recent years, with the Simorgh rocket in particular, which has failed to launch successfully five times in a row. The “Simorgh” is a two-stage liquid-fueled rocket that can carry a 250 kg payload into a circular low Earth orbit of 500 km. It is also the first Iranian rocket to place multiple payloads into orbit.

The US Intelligence Community 2023 worldwide threat assessment stated that the creation of satellite launch vehicles by Iran could shorten the time frame for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile since the technologies share similarities. The “Simorgh” rocket was specifically highlighted in the report as a potential dual-use rocket.

On Friday last week, France, Germany, and the UK condemned a previous Iranian satellite launch from January 20th, similarly saying that it is capable of helping Iran develop long-range ballistic missiles. The countries released a statement: “We have longstanding concerns over Iran’s activity related to ballistic missile technologies that are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. These concerns are reinforced by Iran’s continued nuclear escalation beyond all credible civilian justification.”

Tehran reportedly has the largest collection of ballistic missiles in the Middle East because of the long-lasting sanctions that prevented it from obtaining advanced fighter jets and other weapon systems.

The US State Department responded to the situation: “We have long made clear our concern that Iran’s space launch vehicle programs provide a pathway to expand its longer-range missile systems. We continue to use a variety of nonproliferation tools, in coordination with our allies and partners, to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program.”