March 17, 2011

Iran Joins Space Race With Launch of ‘Life Capsule’

Iran has raised its space ambitions by announcing the launch of a "life capsule" designed to carry a monkey, despite concerns by the West of its true intentions.

With little fanfare, the Iranian Space Agency launched the Kavoshgar-4 rocket on March 15, the official IRNA news agency said, citing the president's office.

The launch of a monkey into orbit has been touted by Iranian officials as the first step of sending a man into space by 2020.

Omid, the name of the first Iranian-made satellite, was launched in February 2009 as part of the country's space program, Bloomberg reports. In February of last year, Iran fired a domestically produced rocket into space with a satellite carrying two turtles, a rat and several worms.

Unveiled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in early February, the initial flight of the "life capsule" was intended to "test the system performance... the launch platform, engine, electronic and telemetry systems and the system of separation" between the rocket and its load, AFP is reporting.

The Iranian Space Agency plans to place into orbit several satellites by March 2012. Iran has also announced that it seeks to put satellites in the bit of geostationary satellites within "five or six" years. Geostationary orbits are generally 22,000 miles into space and are stationary over one point over the earth.

Iran has also unveiled Safir 1-B launcher, capable of placing a 110 pound satellite into an elliptical orbit of 185 to 280 miles, AFP reports.

Iran's space agenda is a growing concern by Western powers in that it may be linked to ballistic missile development that might potentially deliver nuclear warheads. Tehran has denied that its atomic and scientific programs are a front for military ambitions.

Previous launches by Iran of rockets and satellites has resulted in strong reactions from the West. Washington speaks of "provocation" and a potential violation of United Nations sanctions limiting missile development from the Iranian government.

President Ahmadinejad has claimed that scientific development is a central theme of his presidency, reiterating that Iran has progressed despite international sanctions and no longer requires assistance from foreign states.


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