Tehran (The Times Groupe)- The Islamic Republic of Iran said Wednesday it was planning two solid-fueled rocket tests as satellite photos showed preparations at a desert launch pad previously used in the program, even as tensions remain high over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program.
“Iran will launch its satellite-carrying Zuljanah rocket twice more after conducting a previous launch”, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini as saying. He did not elaborate on the timing of the tests, nor did he specify the date of the previous launch.
During the tests, each of the Zuljanah’s three stages will be evaluated.
Maxar Technologies captured satellite images Tuesday that showed preparations at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to launch satellites.
Rockets were seen on a transporter, getting ready to be lifted and placed on a launch tower in one set of images. Another image from Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket on the tower.
Even though it is not clear when the launch will take place, erecting a rocket usually means a launch is on the way. NASA fire satellites that detect flashes of light from space did not immediately see any activity over the site late Tuesday night into Wednesday.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the U.S. wants to de-escalate the situation.
“Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions. It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions,” Price said.
A Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, said the American military “will continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile program.”
“Iranian aggression, to include the demonstrated threat posed by its various missile programs, continues to be a top concern for our forces in the region,” Lodewick said.
Iran has launched several short-lived satellites into orbit over the past decade, and in 2013, it sent a monkey into space. Recently, however, the program has encountered problems. Simorgh, a satellite-carrying rocket, has failed to launch five times in a row. The fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
An explosion in August 2019 on the launch pad used in Tuesday’s preparations drew the attention of then-President Donald Trump. After the launch failure, he tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image.
Satellite images from February suggested a failed Zuljanah launch earlier this year, though Iran did not acknowledge it.
Trump himself hinted at outside interference into Iran’s program by tweeting at the time that the U.S. “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.” No proof has been provided, however, to prove foul play in any of the failures, and space launches remain challenging even for the world’s most successful programs. advancing nuclear program