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Iran’s Never-Ending Space Story? The Same Iranian Satellites Perennially “About” To Be Launched

Launch of Iran’s Simorgh space launch vehicle from the Imam Khomeini Space Centre on July 27, 2017. Photograph courtesy of the Tasnim News Agency.

The head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), Morteza Barari, announced in early October 2018 that three Iranian-made satellites – Payam-e Amirkabir-1, Dousti, and Nahid-1 – have been built and are ready to be launched, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Morteza Berari made the announcement at a press conference marking the occasion of World Space Week (4-10 October 2018) where he expressed hope that the three satellites will be put into Earth orbit by the end of current Iranian year (20 March 2018).

Iranian officials over the past couple of years have regularly announced that these three satellites are ready for launch, only for the stated launch date to slip to another year. While it is possible that these three satellites, or at least one of them, could be launched soon, it is also equally possible that they will not based on previous announcements that did not result in anything.

During the World Space Week press conference, Berari also said that Iran is the first country in the Middle East, and the ninth in the world, to possess a “complete space supply chain.”

“Payam-e Amirkabir will be placed into the orbit 500 kilometers above the earth’s surface and its data will be used for developing programs,” Berari said when describing the three satellites built by Iranian engineers.

Nahid-1 is the first Iranian-made communications satellite and was designed and built by the Iran Space Research Centre.

The Payam-e Amirkabir-1 satellite was designed and built by Tehran’s Amirkabir University of Technology and is believed to be a remote sensing satellite that will operate in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Iran has launched the Simorgh launch vehicle with a Pajouhesh satellite in recent years, but despite clearly possessing a fledgling satellite development and manufacturing infrastructure has found it challenging to send its satellites to space. The most likely causes for this are a combination of poor economic management and sanctions creating budgetary pressures and stymieing attempts to find a foreign launch provider; technical issues with Iran’s domestic launch capability; and political and financial corruption among senior Iranian officials.

Looking to the future, Berari told media representatives that the Zafar satellite will be built by the end of current Iranian year and will be placed in the queue for subsequent launch, and again did not mention a specific launch provider or launch dates.

The ISA also plans to build imagery satellites with one-meter resolution by 2025, marking the end of Iran’s current 20-year National Vision programme. Berari also said that the ISA intends to encourage the creation of Iranian space startups, an increase in its space budget, the creation of a Supreme Space Council, and the development of an indigenous satellite broadband and broadcasting capability.

Berari added that the ISA ultimately intends to transfer satellite manufacturing and operations to the private sector and to then focus on providing the country with the necessary space infrastructure.

Given the parlous state of the Iranian economy and chronic mismanagement, however, it is difficult to envision many of these Iranian space plans coming to fruition.

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