February 3, 2009

Iran Launches Newly Constructed Satellite Into Orbit

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has launched its first domestically made satellite into orbit.

Ahmadinejad said the launch had been successful and stated that Iran had "officially achieved a presence in space".

State TV reported that the satellite was carried on a Safir-2 rocket and is meant for telecommunication and research purposes.

However, an official from the U.S. state department said the launch was of "great concern" and could lead to ballistic missile development.

Iran maintains that the launch is peaceful.

France also stated some concern, saying the technology used was very similar to that used in ballistic missiles. Iran is subject to United Nations sanctions because some Western powers think it is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Tehran, however, argues that its nuclear ambitions are limited to energy production.

Six world powers, made up of the U.S., Russia, China, UK, France and Germany have prepared to meet on Wednesday in Germany to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The BBC's Jon Leyne reported in Tehran that the launch of the Omid (Hope) satellite had been expected and was clearly timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

The satellite was launched to spread "monotheism, peace and justice" in the world, according to Ahmadinejad.

But UK correspondents fear the launch could cause alarm in the West because of fears the technology could be used to make a long-range missile, possibly with a nuclear warhead.

Leyne suggested that Iran will no doubt reply that it is once again being judged by double standards for using a technology that is commonplace in many other parts of the world.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stressed the project was peaceful, saying Iran's satellite technology is for purely peaceful purposes and to meet the needs of the country.

"Iran's activities could possibly lead to the development of ballistic missiles and are of great concern," said U.S. state department official Robert Wood.

France is very concerned about the launch, according to French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.

"We can't help but link this to the very serious concerns about the development of military nuclear capability," he said.

UK Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said the launch underlined the UK's "serious concerns about Iran's intentions".

Rammell released a statement saying: "There are dual applications for satellite launching technology in Iran's ballistic missile program. As a result, we think this sends the wrong signal to the international community, which has already passed five successive UN Security Council resolutions on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program."

The launch was a confirmed success and the satellite is now established in a low Earth orbit, according to John Pike, an expert at the U.S.-based think-tank

He told the BBC that at that altitude it is likely to remain in orbit for some two months before falling back towards Earth and burning up as it re-enters the atmosphere.

Iran said last August it had successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite, having in February launched a low-orbit research rocket as part of preparations for the satellite launch.

This was the first launch from Iran's new space center, which included an underground control station and satellite launch pad located at an unidentified desert location.

The U.S. called the 2008 launch "unfortunate", warning it would further isolate Iran from the global community.

Iran said it had launched a rocket capable of reaching space in February 2007, before it made a parachute-assisted descent to Earth.

A Russian rocket launched Iran's first satellite, the Sina-1 in October 2005, which carried photographic and telecommunications equipment.


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