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Iran signs space launch agreement with Kazakhstan

A Safir space launch vehicle carrying the Rasad satellite is readied for launch at the Semnan launch site in Iran. ©Vahid Reza Alaei
A Safir space launch vehicle carrying the Rasad satellite is readied for launch at the Semnan launch site in Iran. ©Vahid Reza Alaei

Iran and Kazakhstan have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) allowing access for both countries to each other’s space launch and satellite facilities.

Kazakh Minister for Investment Aset Isekeshev visited Tehran on Tuesday, 12 April 2016, and signed the MoU along with Iranian Vice-President for Scientific Affairs Sorena Sattari.

According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), among the other issues agreed upon between the two countries are nanotechnology cooperation, information technology exchanges, and the possible joint development of a technology park.

Kazakhstan is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome situated in the desert steppe some 200km east of the Aral Sea. Baikonur Cosmodrome is leased by the Russian government and is one of the busiest space launch facilities is the world.

The Kazakh space agency, known as KazCosmos also uses the Baikonur Cosmodrome for the launch, and tracking and control, of its own satellites such as its communications satellites KazSat-1 and -2.

For its part, the Iranian Space Agency maintains space launch facilities at Emamsharh, near the city of Shahrud in Iran’s northeast, one near the city of Qom in Iran’s interior, and another launch site in development near the city of Semnan, also in the northeast of Iran.

Iran is also rapidly building and expanding its ground infrastructure to support space launches and satellite operations, to include satellite tracking, telemetry, and control facilities and a space situational awareness (SSA) centre near Delijan, a city located not far from Qom.

As Iran seeks to establish itself as a major regional space power, to include ambitious plans for manned spaceflight and possible participation in China’s space station project, it is likely looking to Kazakhstan for capacity building of space launch expertise, as well as to establish the possibility to launch Iranian satellites and other spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome if necessary.

Geopolitically, the agreement to allow mutual access to space facilities reflects burgeoning relations between Tehran and Astana in recent years. Trade between the two countries has rapidly expanded, and both seek to establish mutually advantageous relations with each other.

For Kazakhstan, Iran offers an opportunity to diversify its foreign and security policy interests away from Russia and China, as well as to also utilize Iran’s infrastructure in order to access Middle East markets.

Similarly, for Iran good relations with Kazakhstan allows it access to the increasingly important Central Asian region, especially as China steps up its revival of the ancient Silk Road trade routes through the region, known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. Tehran hopes to play a significant role in the OBOR in the coming years.

Finally, both countries are keen to accelerate their respective space programmes for the purposes of prestige, national security, and strategic autonomy.

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