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Iran post-sanctions: heavenly ambitions unleashed?

A small section of the Veil Nebula captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
A small section of the Veil Nebula captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The country managed to develop one of the region’s foremost space programmes while being economically strangled by severe sanctions. Now that the heaviest shackles have been removed, what is Iran capable of?

By John B. Sheldon

Iran has maintained a space programme for more than 10 years, making it one of the oldest in the Middle East. In stark contrast to the space activities of its Arab neighbours, the Iranians have had to contend with crippling economic sanctions imposed by the international community because of Iran’s nuclear programme. Considering that Iran has been able to make these space-related achievements while being in complete international scientific and technological isolation speaks of the country’s capabilities and potential. Now, that these nuclear-related sanctions are lifted and expectations for an Iranian economic renaissance are high, one must ask what the prospects for the Iranian space programme are.  From here, a vital question follows: what are the regional implications?

While labouring under debilitating sanctions and in isolation, Iran has been developing research satellites for more than a decade. It has launched these through Russian launch services as well as several indigenous launches from the Imam Khomeini launch site in central Iran. Like all national space programmes, Iran has suffered and celebrated the usual spectacular failures and successes. Ultimately though,  it has suffered from a lack of sufficient funding, and has been denied access to the best technologies that could improve the quality and usefulness of its satellites and enable its space exploration and manned spaceflight ambitions.

Once the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement negotiated by Iran, the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany in 2015, the decades-long nuclear-related sanctions regime began to end, promising to create one of the largest and fastest-growing emerging economies in the world today.



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