So far in 2024 it has already put five satellites into orbit, finalised the launch of a dozen and reactivated its manned flight programme

Iran picks up pace to keep pace with space-faring Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Turkey

PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - El presidente Ebrahim Raisi apuesta por desarrollar lanzadores que le permitan tener acceso autónomo al espacio y crear una industria nacional de fabricación de satélites 
PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - President Ebrahim Raisi is committed to developing launchers for autonomous access to space and creating a domestic satellite manufacturing industry.

The president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, aims to make the Persian nation the Middle East's space powerhouse, or at least one of the top three. 

  1. Three launches, five satellites 
  2. Technology for multiple launches 

With the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Tehran leader wants to demonstrate to the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Turkey, as well as to those of Washington, Beijing and Moscow, that his technological efforts in the space sector are focused on autonomous access to outer space and the establishment of a national satellite manufacturing industry.  

Since Ebrahim Raisi took office as president in August 2021, he has revitalised civilian and military space projects, to the point where the number of space launches in the past two years is similar to all launches in the previous ten years. And it has resumed meetings of the Supreme Space Council, which had not been convened once since August 2013, the beginning of President Hasan Rouhani's term in office.  

PHOTO/Axiom Space - El coronel de la Fuerza Aérea de Turquía Alper Gezeravcí acaba de retornar de la misión comercial privada Axiom 3 a la Estación Espacial Internacional, donde ha permanecido 18 días 
PHOTO/Axiom Space - Turkish Air Force Colonel Alper Gezeravci has just returned from the private commercial Axiom 3 mission to the International Space Station, where he spent 18 days.  

Ebrahim Raisi has conveyed to Iranian society the message that being present in outer space demonstrates "the strength, hope and wealth of the nation". He has also given a new impetus to the national human spaceflight programme, noting that Saudi Arabia recently sent two astronauts into space, the Emirates two more and Turkey one, who has just returned from an 18-day stay on the International Space Station.    

However, unlike the three Muslim countries mentioned above, whose astronauts have flown the cosmos in American or Russian capsules, President Raisi wants his compatriots to orbit the Earth in domestically manufactured spacecraft, a challenge of the highest order for Iranian industry. If this does happen, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Isa Zarepur, who heads the Iranian Space Agency, created in 2003, has predicted that it will be "beyond 2029".

Three launches, five satellites 

On the rocket front, Minister Isa Zarepur, who heads the Iranian Space Agency, has also made an important announcement. In two years' time, when its domestically produced delivery vehicles have achieved the necessary reliability index, the Tehran government is ready "to offer its satellite launch services to third countries", he said. 

But President Raisi and his government still have many hurdles to overcome. The past decade has been littered with failures in launching launchers and putting satellites into orbit. Fortunately, the rough patch seems to be over and, step by step, like India years ago, Iran is on its way to achieving reliability of its rockets and small spacecraft. 

PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - El ministro de Comunicación y Tecnologías de la Información, Isa Zarepur, al fondo de la imagen, ha anticipado que Irán quiere ofrecer sus servicios de lanzamiento de satélites a terceros países
PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - The Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Isa Zarepur, in the background, has announced that Iran wants to offer its satellite launch services to third countries. 

This is evidenced by the fact that in less than 100 days this year, Tehran's executive has successfully launched a total of five technology test, reconnaissance and communications satellites. Four have flown into space from Persian territory using domestically produced launchers - Simorgh and Qaem 100 - and one from Russia, aboard a Soyuz vector. 

The most recent vehicle to be placed in orbital position is Pars-1, an observation platform for military use, but also for civilian applications. The 134-kilogram, cube-shaped, "100 percent Iranian" Pars-1, according to Minister Isa Zarepur, was flown on 29 February from the Siberian Vostochny Cosmodrome, along with 17 small companions of the 2.75-tonne Russian Meteor M2-4 radar-technology meteorological platform.  

PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - El presidente Raisi es firme partidario de potenciar el sector de lanzadores y satélites que, en su opinión, conlleva fortaleza, esperanza y riqueza para Irán
PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - President Raisi is a strong supporter of boosting the launcher and satellite sector, which he believes brings strength, hope and wealth to Iran. 

Positioned at an altitude of about 500 kilometres, Pars-1 is equipped with three cameras in the visible and infrared spectrums that give it a resolution of between 15 and 300 metres, according to Iranian officials. It has several small thrusters to keep it at the correct altitude, a thermal control system and two solar panels to provide the electricity needed for on-board equipment.  

Technology for multiple launches 

A month earlier, a 27-metre-high domestic rocket named Simorgh lifted off on 28 January from the Khomeini Space Centre, a vast desert area in Semnan province, 220 kilometres southeast of Tehran. It carried three small technology and communications satellites of the Iranian Space Agency into orbit at an altitude of 450 kilometres: Mehda, weighing 32 kilos; Hatef 1 and Kaihan 2, each weighing less than 10 kilos. A dozen more are waiting to fly into space, several of them in the remainder of this year.

To its credit, the Simorgh is the first Iranian launcher to have carried out a multiple satellite deployment, placing three spacecraft in space on the same orbital mission, a testament to the progress made by the technology developed by Persian engineers.  

PHOTO/Maxar Technology - Irán ha efectuado desde su territorio dos lanzamientos al espacio en menos de tres meses. Uno desde el Centro Espacial Jomeini, en imagen, otro desde el complejo de Shahroud 
PHOTO/Maxar Technology - Iran has made two launches into space from its territory in less than three months. One from the Khomeini Space Centre, pictured, the other from the Shahroud complex.   

Just eight days earlier, another liftoff had taken place, but from the Shahroud launch and test complex next to the Khomeini Space Centre. The small 47-kilogram Suraya military communications satellite was placed into orbit on 20 January at an altitude of 744 kilometres by the new Qaem 100 vector. The 16-metre-long, three-stage, solid-fuel propulsion system is under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and its development and operation is under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. 

PHOTO/Iranian Space Agency - Los cohetes Simorgh y Qaem 100 están condiciones de posicionar satélites de menos de 100 kilos en orbitas bajas de la Tierra
PHOTO/Iranian Space Agency - The Simorgh and Qaem 100 rockets are capable of placing satellites weighing less than 100 kilos into low Earth orbits.

Iran's space programmes, especially the civilian one, have had their ups and downs. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served from 2005 to 2013, made domestic space launches a national priority. He called for an 'active presence in space', facilitated the manufacture of satellites and launchers, and even led the countdown to the launch of the Kavoshgar-1 rocket in February 2008. But he was wrong when he claimed that Iran would put an astronaut in orbit in 2021 and on the moon in 2025.  

When Ahmadinejad left office and President Hasan Rouhani came to power in 2013, economic issues came to the fore. Space issues were sidelined, funding for most rocket and satellite programmes was slowed down, as was the manned spaceflight project, for which the nation had neither technological nor human resources, despite its excellent relations with the space agencies of Russia, China and North Korea. 

PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - Los servicios de inteligencia de Estados Unidos sospechan que las tecnologías para lanzadores de uso civil se vuelcan en el desarrollo de misiles balísticos de largo alcance
PHOTO/Gov. Islamic Republic Iran - US intelligence services suspect that civilian launcher technologies are being diverted to the development of long-range ballistic missiles. 

To date, Iran remains permanently under Washington's scrutiny. This is due to its historical confrontation with the United States, its declared enmity towards Israel and its support for Hamas terrorists, Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi militias. US intelligence services suspect that the technologies Iranian industry is developing for civilian launchers are being used to develop long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles, which Tehran repeatedly denies.