The head of Iran’s Astronautics Research Institute (ARI), Fathollah Ommi, has stated that Iran is “conducting research to send a man to space,” with the intent to be able to act on this research within eight years. Iran’s human spaceflight programme has had a series of fits and starts, most recently canceling a project to launch a human-carrying rocket earlier this year. This most recent pause in the programme’s development was because the project was judged to be too expensive in statements by Mohammad Homayoun Sadr, the deputy head of the Iran Space Agency (ISA).
Ommi emphasized the nascent nature of the restarted programme, stating “the preliminary measures to send a human to space are underway and the project is to be carried out in two suborbital and orbital phases.” Additionally, there is a possibility that robots or other live creatures will be sent ahead of human test subjects under the current programme. Ommi also alluded to collaboration with Moscow on the programme, referencing “preliminary talks with Russia’s main space company.” Though not corroborated by Russian officials, this collaboration would be an interesting departure from more recent moves by Tehran to diversify their country business partners.
Previously, Iran’s human spaceflight programme successfully launched a mouse, a turtle, and worms before its historic launch of two monkeys in 2013. Then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered to be the first Iranian put into space after Pishgam’s – the second of the monkeys – successful flight. Ahmadinejad’s term ended shortly after his declaration, however, and the programme under the current President Hassan Rouhani, as previously stated, was stayed as a result of cost.
The announcement of the programme’s reopening comes close on the heels of Iran’s July 2017 test of the Simorgh space launch vehicle (SLV), which is designed to launch large-scale satellites. It is clear from this pattern of behaviour that Iran has already begun to invest strategically in its space programme and will continue to do so in the future. It has been asserted by Iranian analysts in the wake of these activities that because Iran has been restricted in its ability to develop its nuclear programme it has redirected those efforts to its space activities. Analysts also assert that as the United States and other Western nations inhibit Iranian activities, technological prowess becomes increasingly important to its projection of sovereignty and power in the Middle East.
Written by Natalie Fuchs, who covers Iranian space, science, and technology issues for SpaceWatch Middle East.