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Senior Iranian military officials announced over the weekend that they plan to launch a “home-made” satellite into space in the coming days, sparking concerns Tehran is flaunting its ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The chief of Iran’s Space System Research Center said on Saturday that Tehran would “launch a new satellite into space by the next few days and will be able to send man into space by the next five years,” according to Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency.
Space chief Mohammad Ebrahimi also revealed Iran has “launched several satellites into orbit and achieved the technology to build satellite-carriers,” according to Fars.
Western observers worry Iran’s space program is military in nature. The same technology used to launch a satellite into space is also used to launch a ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
Tehran claimed to have successfully launched a monkey into orbit in late January aboard a rocket that experts say could double as a weapons carrier.
However, some Western observers have cast doubt on Iran’s space claims. They maintain last month’s launch was “little more than a publicity exercise and had no scientific, technological or military significance,” according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
“The issue isn’t the satellite but rather the fact that launching a satellite and launching an intercontinental ballistic missile effectively use the same technology,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq.
“The White House should take Iran’s satellite program seriously,” Rubin said. “Every step the Iranians take is a step a country wanting a global nuclear capability would pursue.”
Additionally, Iran announced on Thursday that it would soon unveil an unmanned drone capable of launching surface-to-air missiles, which could target enemy fighter jets.
Tehran claims to have captured and extracted data from several United States-made drones. It recently released footage that it says is from a downed CIA-issued Sentinel drone.
The release of this footage suggests that Iran may have decrypted the drone’s technology and hence could back-engineer the aircraft.
Iran’s defense minister announced on Saturday that Iran has domestically produced more than “20 types of drones,” according to Iran’s Mehr News Agency.
The newest drone is in the final stages of production, Mehr quoted Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi as saying.
“The Karrar fighter drone has been developed recently,” Vahidi said. “We will unveil our latest fighter drone with launching surface-to-air missile, and it is in final production stage.”
Vahidi and other Iranian officials have indicated that Tehran desires to sell its domestically produced drones on the open market.