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Iran and APSCO to create a space situational awareness network

The Iran Space Agency Mahdasht Space Centre. Photo credits: Raheb Homavandi, Reuters.
The Iran Space Agency Mahdasht Space Centre. Photo credits: Raheb Homavandi, Reuters.

Iranian press reports are suggesting that Iran and its Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO) partners China, Pakistan, and Peru are in the process of creating a space situational awareness (SSA) network initially consisting of ground-based optical telescopes.

According to reports, the first such optical telescope will become operational in October 2016 during World Space Week, at the Iran Space Agency’s Mahdasht Space Centre located about 70 kilometres west of Tehran. World Space Week will take place 4-10 October 2016.

Mohsen Bahrami, the head of the Iran Space Agency, told the Iranian press agency Mehr News Agency that, “Meanwhile, the project of satellite data sharing between APSCO member states has had good progress, and the rich source of data currently accumulated at Mahdasht Space Center can be useful at the international level.”

The Mahdasht Space Centre was opened in 2013 by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reportedly will consist of radars and radio and optical telescopes to track and catalogue satellites in orbit, a process known as space situational awareness.

SSA, according to the U.S. not-for-profit organization The Space Foundation, “refers to the ability to view, understand and predict the physical location of natural and manmade objects in orbit around the Earth, with the objective of avoiding collisions.” SSA can also be used to accurately plot the orbit of a satellite in order to precisely use counterspace capabilities against it.

The apparent involvement of China, Pakistan, and Peru in this SSA programme suggests that APSCO is intent on building a network of sensors across Eurasia and in Latin America.

Iranian press reports also quote Mohsen Bahrami saying that Iran expects to launch its Dousti (friendship) satellite by March 2017 on an Iranian space launch vehicle. Dousti is supposed to be a remote sensing and store-and-forward communications microsatellite with a mass of 50 kilograms.

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