Iranian officials are in talks with Italy for the return of the Iranian Mesbah (Farsi for ‘Lantern’) satellite, according to the head of the Iranian Space Agency Mohsen Bahrami.
The Mesbah satellite was seized by Italy and Russia just prior to its scheduled launch in 2006, due to the imposition of the international sanctions regime in response to concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mesbah, a low-Earth orbit communications satellite, was cooperatively built by the Iran Telecommunications Research Centre (ITRC), Iranian Electronics Industry Organisation, the Iranian Research Organisation for Science and Technology (IROST), and the Iranian Institute of Applied Research, along with the Italian satellite manufacturer Carlo Gavazzi Space S.p.A.
Iranian engineers and technicians worked on Mesbah at Carlo Gavazzi Space which is headquartered in Milan, Italy, and now owned by German satellite company OHB Technology.
According to Mohsen Bahrami, “Iranian researchers are now estimating the options to decide over the launch of Mesbah satellite into the orbit.”
The Mesbah satellite was built between 1999 and 2001, and planning for the project began in 1997 by the Iranian government when President Muhammad Khatami was in office.
The Mesbah programme was thought to have cost US$10 million, and weighs 65 kilograms. It was built to have an operational lifetime of three years, but its builders expected it to operate for up to five years. Mesbah was supposed to have been launched by Russia in 2006 before both Rome and Moscow decided to seize the satellite citing international sanctions against Iran.
It is only now that the nuclear sanctions regime against Iran is being dismantled that Tehran is now seeking the return of the Mesbah satellite from Italy. Since the satellite was seized in 2006, Iran is currently building its replacement, Mesbah-2.
With Mesbah-2 still being constructed, the original Mesbah satellite might still be launched before its successor should Iranian officials successfully negotiate its return from Italy.
It should also be noted that the fact that Mesbah-2 is still being built ten years after the seizure of the original Mesbah suggests that the international sanctions regime against Iran had an enervating impact on its space programme.