Iran Launches Third Military Satellite to Orbit, Raising Tensions on the Ground

Iran Launches Third Military Satellite to Orbit, Raising Tensions on the Ground

Iran claims it has successfully placed a third imaging satellite in orbit, a move that will likely garner more criticism from the Western world over fears that the Islamic Republic is bolstering its ballistic missile technology.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force launched the Noor-3 satellite on board its three-stage Qased rocket, local media reported. The launch took place on Wednesday from an undisclosed location. The U.S. Space Force tracked two objects that were consistent with a launch from Shahrud, Iran around 2:00 a.m. ET, according to astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The satellite was placed in its orbit at an altitude of 450 kilometres above Earth’s surface, according to Issa Zarepour, Iran’s minister of communications and information technology, who announced the launch on X (formerly Twitter).

“God willing, this year will be a fruitful year for the country’s space industry,” Zarepour wrote, adding that Iran hopes to launch one or two more satellites by the end of the current year based on the Iranian calendar (March 19, 2024). Iran has had a series of failed launches in the past few years, which it blamed on technical issues.

Iran launched its first military satellite, Noor-1, in April 2020, followed by Noor-2, which launched in March 2022. Both satellites were sent to orbit on board the Qased rocket, although Noor-1 fell from its orbit and reentered Earth’s atmosphere in April 2022.

“Noor 3 was launched to the current altitude of Noor 2, not its original altitude,” McDowell wrote on X. “The two sats are in roughly the same orbital plane, suggesting they may work together. In contrast, Noor 1 was already on its way to reentry when Noor 2 was launched.”

Following the launch of Noor-1, the U.S. claimed that Iran’s satellite defies a United Nations Security Council resolution “which calls on the regime not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons—including launches using ballistic missile technology,” according to a statement issued in 2020. Earlier in 2019, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s space agency.

With the launch of its third satellite to orbit, things are bound to escalate between the U.S. and Iran, especially as the Western world fears a growing alliance between Iran and Russia.

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