Iran says it's sent a domestically-built satellite into orbit. It's a troubling development, if true. Much of the gear and the know-how behind a space launch can also be used for ballistic missiles.
That's the bad news. The good news is that Tehran has a long, colorful history of trying to BS the world about their military capabilities.
The Omid ("hope") satellite was allegedly sent into space on top of a two-stage, 72-foot-long, 26-ton Safir ("messenger") rocket, which uses "a modified version of Iran's most advanced ballistic missile system, the Shahab-3, as its first stage," the Arms Control Association believes. "A liquid-fueled second stage and possibly a small solid-fueled third stage" may follow, the New York Times notes.
Getting such a launcher right is key to Iran's military. The Shahab-3 has a reported maximimum range of 1200 miles. To go any further than that require[s] "mastering the staging process," Arms Control Association notes. Earlier multi-stage rocket tests flopped, despite claims to the contrary. If this one worked, it means Tehran could threaten cities thousands of miles away.
But don't panic, just yet. Time after time, public demonstrations of Iran's alleged military prowess have turned out to be flim-flam. In early 2007, Iran announced that it has fired off a space-ready missile; turns out the thing was nothing more than a modified Scud. Last July, Iran said it launched a slew of missiles. Then it turned out the photographic "proof" was just a crude Photoshop job.
For now, however, Tehran is sticking to its story. The head of Iran's Space Agency tells Press TV that he's planning to send another satellite into orbit by next summer -- part of an effort to develop the country's "telecommunication network."
UPDATE: Space-watchers are already tracking two objects in orbit that appear to be the satellite and the final stage of the rocket. "In the face of world opposition and sanctions, Iran has joined a very exclusive club: those countries that have managed to orbit a satellite," MIT's Geoff Forden writes.
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