A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Iran's Satellite Launch

Here's a link to IRNA's pictures of the launch of Iran's first satellite. [IRNA moved the pix from the site originally linked. This link works Tuesday afternoon, but may move again.] The Omid is said to be a "data-processing satellite," launched by a Safir-2 rocket last night, and its launch was intended to mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. (Were they trying to upstage the MEI collection I just posted about?) (UPDATED: Fars has a bit more than IRNA on the details.)

Now I'm no rocket scientist and therefore not the best analyst of this, but have worked on some missile and defense issues in the past, and my wife, an Editor with Air Force Magazine, does their annual Space Almanac, so I'll venture a few comments.

There is really nothing surprising about the launch -- Iran had tested the launcher last year, said it was a satellite launch vehicle, and talked about its plans to launch its own satellite for years. It also claimed a launch last year had put a "dummy satellite" into orbit, but Western reports did not confirm that anything achieved orbit then. (An Iranian satellite was previously launched by a Russian launch vehicle.)

Since not much is known yet about the satellite, and we've come a long way since Sputnik 1 back in 1957, the achievement is real but not particularly alarming. A satellite capability means that a country has reached a certain stage in lift capability and precision guidance, but Iran's well-known ballistic missile program is already evidence of that. But since the satellite launch shows a reasonable level of guidance capability, there will probably be a lot of rhetoric about Iran's missile program as a result of the launch. I'm not sure that the achievement really moves the issue forward, though: the Safir is supposedly derived from the Shahab-3 ballistic missile, which is basically a development of the North Korean Nodong-1, is a known quantity tested a number of times in recent years.

As of this writing there doesn't seem to be a lot of fuss about the satellite on the news, and that's probably a sign that this isn't being blown out of proportion. Basically, we knew they could do it, were planning to do it, and might do it soon. They picked the 30th anniversary of the revolution, also hardly surprising.

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