Iran Launches First Military Satellite from New Launch Site

Iran Launches First Military Satellite from New Launch Site

Iran launched what Iranian officials heralded as its first military satellite from a new launch site on a new launch vehicle today. Unlike previous Iranian satellite launches by the Iranian Space Agency, this was developed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the United States considers a terrorist group. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the launch for violating a United Nations resolution and demonstrating that Iran’s insistence that its space program is civilian, not military, lacks credibility. Other officials characterized it as an example of Iran’s “malign behavior.”

Iran launched its first satellite in 2009.  The program overseen by the Iranian Space Agency has had mixed success.  Launching from the Iman Khomeni Space Center east of Tehran, it successfully placed four satellites into orbit through 2015 on the Safir-1 and Safir-2 (or Simorgh) rockets, but three attempted launches in 2019 failed.

Today’s launch of a different rocket, Qased, with the Noor-1 (or Nour-1 or Nour-01) satellite came as a surprise to many, although President Trump told reporters “we knew it was going up.”  Asked about it during a wide-ranging press conference focused mostly on the coronavirus, Trump said “We know more about Iran than they do. Right now, we know more than they do.  So we know all about it. We watched it; we knew it was going up. We followed it very closely. They say it was for television.”

Iranian news sources, however, referred to it as “multi-purpose” and touted it as Iran’s first military satellite with  strategic intelligence gathering capabilities.

Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, Commander of the IRGC, told Iranian media that now “we can see the world from space and this means expansion of the strategic intelligence and information of IRCG’s powerful defense force” and “can create powerful grounds for us in intelligence wars.”

Salami said the launch from Dasht-e Kavir, Iran’s central desert, celebrates the April 22, 1979 founding of the IRGC.  The Associated Press reported the satellite was launched using a mobile launcher from a new launch site near Shahroud.

Noor-1 was placed into a 425 kilometer orbit according to Iranian news sources.  DOD’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) tweeted that it is tracking both the satellite and the rocket’s upper stage (“rocket body”).

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and amateur satellite tracker who operates the Jonathan’s Space Report website, and Brian Weeden, Director of Program Planning for the Secure World Foundation (SWF), both noted that Iran did not issue any Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) about the launch.  That is an almost universally-followed procedure for warning aircraft to avoid the area around a launch site or where a rocket stage might reenter.  Weeden told via email that Russia even issued a NOTAM for its antisatellite test last week.

McDowell told us via email that what surprised him most was the confirmation of a separate Iranian military space program. He wonders why this launch was a success when prior launches by the ISA failed.  Does the IRGC get better funding?  And the “solid upper stages are new, so it’s a bit surprising they worked first time.”

In a recent report, SWF wrote that Iran released imagery of testing of an upper stage rocket engine, Salman, at the Shahroud site that could help a space launch vehicle (SLV) or a long-range ballistic missile capability. “The same day Iranian news reported that a solid-fueled SLV, the Zuljanah, was finished and would be able to launch the Nahid-1 satellite, potentially as early as June 2020,” but Weeden clarified this evening that is an ISA launch, not IRGC.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

During a press conference today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo strongly criticized the launch.

 The Iranians have consistently said that these missile programs were disconnected from their military, that these were purely commercial enterprises.  I think today’s launch proves what we’ve been saying all along here in the United States:  The IRGC, a designated terrorist organization, launched a missile today.  And I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about the details about that.  But when you talk about the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, I think every nation has an obligation to go to the United Nations and evaluate whether this missile launch was consistent with that Security Council resolution.  I don’t think it remotely is, and I need – I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they’ve done.  They’ve now had a military organization that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite.


I hope that the Iranian regime will respond to the Iranian people’s demands to prioritize resources, resources that the Iranian regime clearly has, to the health and security and safety of the Iranian people, rather than continuing their global terror campaign.

Weeden said he found it “interesting” that Pompeo referenced the U.N. Security Council Resolution, which addresses  implementation of the Iran nuclear deal “that the Trump Administration unilaterally pulled out of.”

At a press conference shortly after the launch, Gen. John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist called it another example of Iran’s “malign behavior.”  The missile “went a very long way” and could threaten U.S. allies “and we want to make certain they cannot threaten the United States,” Hyten said.

Note: This article was updated.

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