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Technology

Iran Gets Its Sputnik Moment With First Successful Satellite Launch

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandFebruary 3, 2009 10:46 PM

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Iran says it has successfully launched a domestically built satellite into orbit using a rocket that was also made in Iran, marking the country's entry into the league of spacefaring nations on the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian state television showed footage of a rocket blasting off from a launchpad and lighting up the night sky as it streaked into space…. "Dear Iranian nation, your children have placed the first indigenous satellite into orbit," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised message [Reuters].

The announcement may prompt new concerns from the United States and Europe, as experts say that the rocket Iran used to blast its satellite into space could also be used to launch a ballistic missile. But the rocket launch was viewed in a different light by the Iranian government, which sees the accomplishment as

an important milestone along the road to reclaiming Persia's ancient claim to major power status, which it feels the jealous west is trying to deny it [The Guardian].

On Wednesday, senior diplomats from six nations will meet in Frankfurt to discuss Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program, which many fear could lead Iran to developing nuclear weapons. The satellite is named Omid, which means "hope" in Farsi. State television reported that the satellite

is "intended for communications purposes" and would return to earth after several months of gathering information and testing equipment that "could assist Iranian experts in launching an operational satellite into space" [The Jerusalem Post].

Iran has said it needs satellites in order to improve its telecommunications systems and to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone region, but some experts say this first launch may have been intended mainly as propaganda. Says Israeli space policy expert Tal Inbar:

"We should regard this satellite as the 'Iranian Sputnik'" [Reuters].

In 2005, Iran launched its first commercial satellite on a Russian rocket in a joint project with Moscow, which appears to be the main partner in transferring space technology to Iran [AP].

Then, in August 2008, Iran claimed to have sent a domestically made rocket into orbit carrying a dummy satellite, but U.S. defense officials said their monitoring indicated that the attempt had failed. This time, there is slightly less ambiguity:

In Washington, a senior U.S. defense official said the U.S. military detected the launch of a missile into space. But it was not confirmed whether the missile was carrying a satellite, said the official [AP].

Related Content: 80beats: Pentagon Disputes Iran's Boast of Sending a Rocket Into Orbit Bad Astronomy: Iran tries, fails, to join space age just yet

Image: flickr / indigoprime

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