Iran successfully launched its Sorayya satellite into its highest orbit yet, reaching 750 kilometers (about 460 miles) above the Earth’s surface. While the country celebrated this achievement as a milestone in its space program.
The Sorayya satellite, belonging to the Iranian Space Organisation, was launched using a three-stage Qaem 100 rocket, making a new record for Iran’s space program.
The Sorayya Satellite launch was conducted by the aerospace unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and was part of both Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s space program and its civilian space program.
Details about the sorayya satellite’s mission and purpose were not provided by Iranian authorities. However, Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour mentioned that the launch had a 50-kilogram (110-pound) payload.
The United States, in particular, has previously criticized Iran’s satellite launches, arguing that they violate a U.N. Security Council resolution.
The U.S. has consistently urged Tehran to refrain from activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The U.N. sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program expired in October, complicating efforts to address Iran’s missile development.
The U.S. intelligence community’s 2023 worldwide threat assessment addressed the link between Iran’s satellite launch vehicles and the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The assessment stated that the technology used in satellite launches could shorten the timeline for Iran to develop ICBMs, which have the capability to carry nuclear weapons over long distances.
The concerns over Iran’s missile program come at a time when the country is reportedly producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels.
Following the collapse of the nuclear deal with world powers, Tehran has increased its uranium enrichment activities, making warnings from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iran having enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons.
Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons, attributing its nuclear activities and space program to purely civilian purposes.
However, U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA have questions about Iran’s past military nuclear program, which, according to them, existed until 2003.
The involvement of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran’s space program is a concern for Western nations. The IRGC, answering directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, disclosed its space program in 2020.
The use of a mobile launcher for the rocket is a shock, as it provides Iran with increased flexibility and the ability to launch from different locations, making it more challenging to monitor and counter.
Iran’s space program had challenges in the past, including failed launches and incidents at its spaceport. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 resulted in the death of three researchers.
A launchpad rocket explosion later that year, with then-President Donald Trump taunting Iran via a tweet containing what seemed to be a U.S. surveillance photo of the site.