According to an expert and satellite pictures, Iran looks to be preparing for a space launch at the same time as discussions over its shattered nuclear agreement with global powers are still ongoing in Vienna.
The expected launch from Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport comes as Iranian official media has published a list of impending scheduled satellite launches for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space programme, which has been plagued by a string of botched launches in recent years. Last year, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard successfully launched a satellite into space, as part of a parallel programme conducted by the regime.
Conducting a launch in the midst of the Vienna negotiations is consistent with the hard-line stance taken by Iran’s negotiators, who have previously branded six prior rounds of dialogue as “draughts,” further aggravating Western countries. “Time is running out for us at this moment,” says Germany’s new foreign minister, referring to the current state of the world economy.
All of this, however, is consistent with Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi’s heightened emphasis on space, according to Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Analyzes’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies who studies Tehran’s nuclear programme. With Iran’s previous President Hassan Rouhani, who was instrumental in brokering the nuclear agreement, no longer in power, fears of undermining the negotiations by launching missiles that the United States claims help Tehran’s ballistic missile development are believed to have subsided.
‘They’re not going to be walking on eggshells,’ Lewis said. “I believe Raisi’s supporters have a fresh sense of balance in mind.”
The action at the spaceport was not acknowledged by Iranian official media, and Iran’s representation to the United Nations did not reply to a request for comment on the matter. Requests for comment from the United States military, which keeps track of space launches, went unanswered.
Satellite photographs acquired on Saturday by Planet Labs Inc. show activity at the spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan region, some 150 miles southeast of Tehran, which is located in the arid plains of the country.
Across the launch pad from the support truck was a big white gantry, which was generally used to hold a rocket in preparation for launch.
Other satellite photographs taken at the spaceport in recent days have shown an increase in the number of automobiles at the site, which is another indication of the increased activity that generally occurs before a launch. According to Lewis, significant activity has also been seen at a structure that is thought to be the “checkout” facility for a rocket.