Iranian press reports suggest that Iran is preparing a third satellite for launch within the next 12-18 months. The satellite in question is called Soha, a remote sensing satellite believed to have a resolution of 15 metres.
According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the head of the Iran Space Agency’s (ISA) Aerospace Research Institute (ARI), Hassan Hadadpour, said that Soha will be launched as part of the ARI’s sixth development plan to promote the institute’s satellite laboratory and its capabilities.
This includes the ability to develop and construct satellites that weigh up to one ton, suggesting that Iran may be on the cusp of being able to build large operational satellites instead of just small experimental systems.
Hadadpour said that Iran now has the expertise required to build large operational satellites indigenously, though the Iranian satellite programme seems to be dealing with more than its fair share of delays and problems since many public pronouncements of imminent satellite launches have little to show for in terms of Iranian systems in Earth orbit.
According to Iranian reports, Soha is an electro-optical remote sensing satellite with a resolution of 15 metres, a considerable improvement compared to previous Iranian remote sensing satellites that had resolutions in the hundreds of metres.
Curiously, Iranian reports claim that Soha will be placed in an orbit at 36,000 kilometres, essentially in geostationary orbit. This makes little sense for a small experimental satellite with a modest resolution, and should be assumed to be a mistake. Most likely, Soha, if launched at all, will be placed in a low-Earth orbit.
Previous reports, including by SpaceWatch Middle East, have said that Iran aims to launch its Nahid-2 communications satellite and the Doosti remote sensing satellite in the coming months.
In the IRNA report on the Soha satellite, Hadadpour is quoted as saying, “The Doosti satellite will be launched at first and Nahid-1 Telecommunication Satellite will be launched afterwards.”
Based on the latest reporting, it is unclear whether Soha is third in line for launch, or whether it is part of an altogether separate manifest.
Furthermore, Iranian reporting makes no mention of who will launch Nahid-2, Doosti, and Soha.
Iran does have its own space launch capability, but it is again unclear whether it can launch its own satellites reliably or without incurring international opposition to what many analysts believe to be a cover for an intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
The other alternatives for launch are China and Russia, but again, that are no indications based on Iranian reporting as to whether either of these launch alternatives are options.