Iran tries to launch satellite with Safir carrier rocket

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Iran has announced that on August 17 it conducted a successful test flight of the Safir carrier rocket, which was launched from Semnan Province, Iran.

The nature of the test flight is currently unclear, with various contradictory reports and statements being issued. It has been claimed that this test flight was used to launch into orbit the Omid, a low earth orbit satellite, however, later reports suggest that a demonstration payload was affixed to the rocket. In addition to uncertainty regarding the rocket's payload, some reports suggest that the rocket reached orbit, whereas others suggest that it intentionally flew a sub-orbital trajectory, similar to two previous test flights.

It is believed that if the Omid satellite was not launched on this rocket, it may be launched as early as next week. Upon successful launch, the Omid will be the second Iranian satellite to be placed into orbit, and will be the first to be launched on an indigenously developed rocket.

The Safir rocket is believed to be a derivative of the Shahab-3 missile, itself an Iranian-produced derivative of the North Korean Rodong-1 missile. Safir is Persian for "envoy" or "ambassador". The launch follows a number of controversial missile tests conducted by Iran during July, and an earlier sub-orbital test of the Safir rocket in February.

The details of the launch have yet to be confirmed by independent observers, however, videos have been published online. If the rocket did reached orbit, Iran will be the eleventh country to develop the ability to launch satellites. The last country to develop such a capability was Russia, which used technology inherited from the Soviet Union to launch the Kosmos 2175 spy satellite in 1992. Israel was the last country to develop a completely independent launch system, Shavit, which first flew in 1988.

Other countries to have developed a satellite launch capability are Russia (and the former Soviet Union), the United States, France, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, India and Israel. It would be the 40th orbital launch so far this year, and the 39th to reach orbit.

On August 19, a United States official stated, "The vehicle failed shortly after liftoff and in no way reached its intended position." The video footage shown on Iranian state television was only about one minute and it wasn't shown how far the rocket went upward.