Tehran's spy satellites also watch the fighting between Netanyahu's troops and the terrorist militias of Hamas and Hezbollah

Iran aims its electronic pupils on the Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Israel

PHOTO/President of the Islamic Republic of Irán - El presidente Ebrahim Raisi y su ministro de Defensa, general Amir Hatami, recorren una exposición repleta de los principales sistemas de misiles y lanzadores espaciales
photo_camera PHOTO/President of the Islamic Republic of Iran - President Ebrahim Raisi and his defence minister, General Amir Hatami, walk through an exhibition filled with major missile systems and space launchers

Situated in a geographical region straddling the Middle East and Central Asia, the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran are among those who are watching most closely the developments in the cruel and heart-rending all-out war raging in the Gaza Strip. 

The strategic imbalance that has arisen in the Middle East as a result of the indiscriminate and bloody attack by Hamas's Ezzedin al-Qasam Brigades terrorists on the Jewish settlements bordering Gaza has provoked an obvious reaction of self-defence by Israel, as well as the unambiguous, timid or hesitant positioning of a large number of countries in favour of one side or the other.  

 

Iran's government, under the 62-year-old Ebrahim Raisi since August 2021, is clearly a supporter of Hamas's approaches and actions, especially those of the Hezbollah terrorists based in Lebanon and Syria. That is why he goes to such great lengths to gain first-hand knowledge of what is going on in Gaza, in the surrounding nations. And for this it has its spy satellites.

PHOTO/Israel Defense Forces - Los escasos y limitados satélites de Irán intentan escudriñar día y noche la evolución de los combates del Ejército de Israel en la Franja de Gaza contra las milicias terroristas de Hamás
PHOTO/Israel Defense Forces - Iran's few and limited satellites try to monitor day and night the Israeli army's fighting in the Gaza Strip against Hamas terrorist militias

Tehran's executive has deployed its own space component and has platforms for military reconnaissance activities. Its operational assets - three - are not as many as Israel's - a minimum of seven - nor are they as resolute, because the tough sanctions of all kinds that the United States, the European Union and the United Nations have imposed on Iran for its alleged nuclear activities and development of banned intercontinental ballistic missiles have made this difficult, if not impossible.

So, does Iranian industry have the appropriate expertise and resources to develop, manufacture and launch satellites, and what is the provenance of the technological components it uses? If we take into account that Iran's main props for its military air and naval hardware come from Russia, North Korea, China and in some cases India, it is clear that the same countries are the ones that make its very secret and limited space capabilities possible.

The most recent spy satellite put into space by Iran is the Noor-3, a domestically manufactured 6U CubeSat weighing about 20 kilos, which incorporates a mini-camera and a miniaturised high-resolution detector. The above data is assumed, because everything that surrounds Tehran's ultra-terrestrial scenario is shrouded in the strictest secrecy.

PHOTO/Roscosmos - Perteneciente a la familia rusa Kanopus-V, el satélite Khayyam-1 fue puesto en órbita  el 9 de agosto de 2022. La imagen recoge las pruebas previas para verificar el funcionamiento de sus paneles solares
PHOTO/Roscosmos - Belonging to the Russian Kanopus-V family, the Khayyam-1 satellite was launched into orbit on 9 August 2022. The image shows the preliminary tests to verify the functioning of its solar panels

Observing for a month

What is known for sure is that Noor-3 was launched into orbit on 27 September aboard a Qased domestic launcher and is orbiting at 450-500 kilometres. Like its two serial siblings - Noor-1, launched in April 2020 and now out of service, and Noor-2, launched in March 2022 - the diminutive Noor-3 is under the sphere of control of General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, head of the aerospace branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, a parallel but integrated military structure of the Iranian Armed Forces.

The commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guard, General Hossein Salami, confirmed on 28 October that the purpose of the Noor-3 is to "collect imagery and data for intelligence needs". And he anticipated that "two other new satellites with identical capabilities" would be put into orbit before next April.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard is the privileged organisation of a military nature that directs ultra-terrestrial military missions and enjoys the freedom to have its own independent space programme. Well, the Iranian Space Agency, which was given official status on 28 February 2004 during the presidency of Mohamed Khatami and is attached to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

PHOTO/Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Los micro satélites espía Noor están bajo el control del general Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, que posa ante un lanzador Qased, jefe de la rama aeroespacial de la Guardia de la Revolución Islámica
PHOTO/Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - The Noor micro spy satellites are under the control of General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, who poses in front of a Qased launcher, head of the aerospace branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard

Noor micro satellites and other small satellites weighing no more than 50 kilos are launched into space from facilities on Iranian territory by domestically produced launchers. But the failure rate is very high. This is the case with Safir-1: 7 launches, 3 of which failed; Simorgh: 6 launches and 5 failures; Qaem-100: 1 launch and 1 failure. The exception is the Qased rocket, which has three successful flights, precisely the ones that put Noor-1, 2 and 3 into orbit.

Leaving aside the Noor series, Iran's main electro-optical spy for observing the fighting in the Gaza Strip and on Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria is called Khayyam-1. Russian-built, with a take-off mass between 470 and 650 kg and belonging to the Kanopus-V family, it flew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 9 August 2022 on a Soyuz rocket. 

The Iranian Space Agency headed by Hassan Salariyeh denies that Khayyam-1 is a military reconnaissance satellite. It claims that its task is to provide imagery to improve agricultural production, water resources, observe the consequences of floods and earthquakes, monitor the progress of desertification, as well as to monitor oil exploitation... and border areas.

PHOTO/President of the Islamic Republic of Irán - Rouhollah Dehqani Firouzabadi es un ingeniero aeroespacial nombrado vicepresidente para Ciencia, Tecnología y Economía en noviembre de 2022. En imagen, junto al presidente Ebrahim Raisi
PHOTO/President of the Islamic Republic of Iran - Rouhollah Dehqani Firouzabadi is an aerospace engineer appointed Vice President for Science, Technology and Economy in November 2022. Pictured here with President Ebrahim Raisi

Securing space technology transfers from Russia

It is therefore foreseeable that this "monitoring of border areas" will be much more. On board Khayyam-1 is a Korsch-type telescope with three powerful cameras with a wide field of view in the visible and infrared spectra. One of these is a high-resolution camera, now known to be between 1 and 0.75 metres, making it particularly suitable as a spy satellite. But it is possible that its secondary task will be civilian in nature and that it will be used as a dual-purpose platform. 

In any case, in view of the widespread rearmament and the high level of interest around the world in placing new observation and secure communications devices in space, the authorities in Tehran have been keen to relaunch their cooperation with Russia, their main external supplier of components and complete satellite systems.

PHOTO/Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Los pequeños satélites de Irán se envían al espacio desde territorio nacional con lanzadores de producción propia, con altas tasas de fracasos. Salvo el cohete Qased: tres éxitos de tres disparos
PHOTO/Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Iran's small satellites are sent into space from home territory with home-produced launchers, with high failure rates. Except for the Qased rocket: three successes out of three shots

A large Iranian delegation led by the Deputy Prime Minister for Science, Technology and Knowledge Economy, Professor Rouhollah Dehqani Firouzabadi, visited Moscow at the end of October. The purpose of the trip was to strengthen cooperation between the civilian and military technology centres of the two countries, particularly in the fields of artificial intelligence, microelectronics and communications. But above all in the field of space.

Rouhollah Dehqani Firouzabadi, 42, is an aerospace engineer appointed to the post in November 2022, precisely to strengthen relations and sign bilateral aerospace projects with Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov. 

PHOTO/President of the Islamic Republic of Irán - El presidente Raisi aspira a que Rusia autorice la transferencia de tecnologías que permitan a su industria fabricar satélites de mayores dimensiones y prestaciones que los obtenidos hasta el momento
PHOTO/President of the Islamic Republic of Iran - President Raisi wants Russia to authorise the transfer of technologies that would allow his industry to produce satellites larger and more powerful than those obtained so far

President Ebrahim Raisi believes that "now" is the time for Russia to authorise the transfer of technologies to build three platforms similar to the Khayyam-1 in Iran. It is also the time to contract with Russian industry for an encrypted communications satellite and to join the Sfera project, a mixed mega-constellation of observation and communications satellites that Moscow intends to deploy from next year. 

Iran is a pioneer in its interest in outer space. It is one of only 18 countries that in December 1958 gave life to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, COPUOS, just one year after the flight of the Soviet Sputnik-1, the first artificial satellite that began orbiting the Earth on 4 October 1957. Today, COPUOS, headquartered in Vienna, is home to nearly 100 member states.