Iran announced this week that it had successfully carried out the launch of its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket to date, but the news was met by many as a possible violation of its 2015 nuclear treaty and was seen as more of an attempt at developing an intercontinental ballistic missile than furthering Iran's goals as a space-faring nation. In fact, the U.S. State Department labeled the launch a "provocative action."
ABC News reported Thursday that Iranian state media announced that the nation's space program had successfully launched a "Simorgh" (which means "Phoenix" in Persian) rocket into space, ostensibly to lift a satellite into orbit. The Simorgh has the capability of transporting a satellite weighing 250 kilograms (550 pounds).
Although Iran has had a satellite launch program in place for years, it has been viewed with wariness by world powers, including the United States. The fear is that the Islamic nation, which has a contentious history of attempting to develop a nuclear power program, is developing technology to not only launch satellites into orbit but at the same time increase the capability of its missiles to carry heavier payloads over longer distances. This, by extension, reignites the fear that, if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons capability, it would also have a means by which to deliver such a threatening payload.
"Tehran's desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM," a report issued by the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center warned last month. "Progress in Iran's space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies."
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters (per USA Today) Thursday that the launch, even if it were part of Iran's continued push into space, was considered a violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. She referred to the launch as a "provocative action."
"We consider that to be continued ballistic missile development."
The fears appeared to be short-lived, however, as evidenced by Friday's revelation from intelligence assessments that confirmed that Iran had conducted a launch on Thursday, something the U.S. Strategic Command, which monitors such activities worldwide, could not confirm Thursday. But, contrary to Iran state media's pronouncements of success, two U.S. officials revealed to Fox News that the launch ended prematurely in a "catastrophic failure."
To date, Iran has never placed a satellite in Earth orbit, despite repeated efforts to do so.
[Featured Image by Amir Kholousi, ISNA/AP Images]