August 19, 2008
Iran Trumpets Rocket Test By Offering to Share Skill
By Nazila Fathi
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad and Tom Rachman from Paris.
Iran is prepared to help Muslim countries launch satellites, an Iranian official said Monday, a day after Tehran declared that it had test-fired a new rocket capable of carrying a satellite into orbit.
"I am announcing now that Iran is ready to launch satellites of friendly Islamic countries into space," Reza Taghipour, head of Iran's Aerospace Organization, said on state television.
On Sunday, Iranian television showed images of a nighttime rocket launch and said a satellite had been sent into orbit. Iranian officials later said that only the rocket had been fired.
Iran has made several recent claims of test-firing missiles that Western military analysts have said were inflated.
The Iranian defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najar, dismissed the concerns of Western nations and said they wanted to prevent Iran from making scientific progress, the Fars news agency reported. He said Tehran "would soon place its national satellite" into orbit, but he did not specify a time.
The report of the test flight came amid growing Western nervousness over Iran's nuclear program and concerns that it could one day use its missile expertise to threaten enemies with annihilation by means of nuclear warheads.
Rocket scientists agree that the same technology that puts satellites into orbit can also deliver warheads.
An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said that the best American information indicated that the Iranian effort had failed, and that the missile or the dummy satellite, or both, had broken up.
Charles Vick, an Iranian rocket expert at GlobalSecurity.org, a research group in Alexandria, Virginia, called the weekend test flight "a precursor to the satellite launch." He said the satellite's launching had been repeatedly delayed and might occur in the next few weeks or months.
"This test launching is several months behind the June expectation," he added in an interview, saying that the Iranians had suffered many delays from design flaws and hardware failures.
Vick said the launching nonetheless in theory represented a significant step because it appeared to be Iran's first firing of a rocket with more than one stage. The rocket was identified by state news media as the Safir-e Omid, or Ambassador of Peace, and was said to have fired two stages. Vick said the first stage consisted of a Shahab, a standard rocket in Iran's arsenal, topped by a liquid- fueled second stage and possibly a small solid-fueled third stage.
Iran has long held the goal of developing a space program. In 2005, it launched its first commercial satellite on a Russian rocket in a joint project with Moscow, a main partner in transferring space technology to Iran.
Iran says it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve its telecommunications. Iranian officials also point to the use of satellites by the United States to monitor Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar capabilities for their security.
Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.
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