DUBAI, United Arab Emirates ( Associated Press) – Iran admitted on Wednesday that it is planning two tests for its new solid-fuel rocket as satellite images show preparations on a desert launch pad used earlier in the program. even as tensions over Tehran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program remain high. ,
Defense ministry spokesman Ahmed Hosseini said the Islamic Republic would launch its satellite-carrying Luljana rocket twice more since the last launch, state-run IRNA news agency said. He did not elaborate on the time frame for the tests or when the last launch took place.
Hosseini said each of the three phases of Juljana will be evaluated during the trial.
Satellite images taken Tuesday by Maxar Technologies showed preparations at a launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Seman province, the site of a recent failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit.
One set of images shows a rocket on a transporter, being lifted and placed on a launch tower. An image later Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket clearly on the tower.
Although it is not clear when the launch will take place, raising the rocket usually means the launch is imminent. NASA’s Agni satellite, which detects flashes of light from space, saw no immediate activity at the site from late Tuesday through Wednesday.
Asked about preparedness, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the US urges Iran to de-escalate the situation.
“Iran has chosen to continue to escalate tensions. It is Iran that has chosen to continue to take provocative action,” Price said.
US Army Major Rob Lodwick, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US military “will closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to progress in its overall ballistic missile program.”
“The Iranian aggression, including the threat displayed by its various missile programs, remains a top concern for our military in the region,” Lodwick said.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 sent a monkey into space. However, the program has seen recent troubles. There have been five consecutive unsuccessful launches for the Simorg program., a type of satellite-carrying rocket. Officials said at the time that three researchers had also died in a fire at the Imam Khomeini spaceport in February 2019.
The launch pad used in Tuesday’s preparations has been scorched by an explosion in August 2019, which also caught the attention of then-President Donald Trump. He later tweeted what appears to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure,
Satellite images from February suggest a failed Luljana launch earlier this yearHowever, Iran did not accept it.
The persistent failures raised suspicions of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself indicated by tweeting at the time that the US was “not involved in the catastrophic accident.” However, no evidence has been provided to show foul play in any of the failures, and space launch remains challenging for even the world’s most successful programs.
Meanwhile, in April 2020 Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard revealed its own secret space program By successfully launching the satellite into orbit. Guard launches another satellite this March At another site in Semnan province, just east of Tehran, the capital of Iran.
John Krizaniak, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, predicted on Tuesday that Iran would test another Zuljana. Earlier this week Kryzniak suggested that a launch was imminent, based on activity at the site.
The name of the rocket, Zuljana, comes from the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Iranian state television broadcast footage of a successful Zuljana launch in February 2021,
Preparations for the launch also took place after the guard reportedly “martied” one of its soldiers in Semnan province under unclear circumstances over the weekend., However, Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics later claimed that the man worked for it. Zuljana was designed by that ministry.
The United States has alleged that Iran’s satellite defied a UN Security Council resolution calling on Tehran not to conduct any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The US intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment published in March claims that such a satellite launch vehicle “shortened the timeline” for an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran because it uses “similar technologies”. .
Iran, which has long said it does not want a nuclear weapon, has previously said its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
However, Iran’s possible preparation for a launch comes as tensions have risen in recent days over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran now says it will remove 27 IAEA surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites Because it is now enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels more than ever before.
Both Iran and the US insist they are keen to re-enter Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw the Islamic Republic impose heavy curbs on its enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord in 2018, triggering a series of attacks and confrontations beginning in 2019 that continue today in President Joe Biden’s administration.
Negotiations in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on “pause” since March,
Analysts say it will still take Iran more time to build a nuclear bomb, analysts say, though they warn that Tehran’s progress makes the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it would conduct a preemptive strike to deter Iran – and is already suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.
Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrel on Twitter at www.twiter.com/jongambrellAP.