‘New Chapter in Iran’s Defence Power’: Media Offer Insight Into Nation’s New Military Satellite

© REUTERS / Wana News AgencyIran's first military satellite named Noor is launched into orbit by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, in Semnan, Iran. 22 April 2020
Iran's first military satellite named Noor is launched into orbit by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, in Semnan, Iran.  22 April 2020 - Sputnik International
Iran launched its first-ever military satellite on Wednesday. The satellite, developed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is expected to expand Tehran's already considerable military capabilities.

The launch of the Noor-1 (‘Light-1’ in Farsi) satellite is not only a breakthrough for Iran’s space programme, but another step in altering the regional balance of power, Iranian media have suggested, citing the satellite’s successful Wednesday launch and the international reaction to it.

Key facts about the satellite:

  • Unlike Iran’s four previous satellite launches, which were carried out by the Iranian Space Agency, the Noor-1 was produced by the IRGC, the elite military formation at the frontline of the defence of the Islamic Republic. Previously, foreign observers were not even made aware of the existence of an IRGC-run space programme.
  • The satellite was launched aboard the Qased (‘Messenger’ in Farsi), Iran’s first-ever three-stage launch vehicle, and placed into orbit a 425 km above the Earth, circling once every 90 minutes at an inclination of 59.8 degrees to the equator. Monitoring stations in Tehran, Zahedan and Chabahar have reported picking up the satellite’s signals, with the satellite expected to be calibrated and made fully operational in the coming days.
  • The Qased launch vehicle is believed to have a liquid-fueled first stage, and a solid-fueled upper stage, with the latter seen as a major technical achievement. The US Space Control Squadron has confirmed the success of Wednesday’s launch, reporting that it is tracking two objects in orbit associated with the Noor-1, presumably including the satellite itself and its upper stage.
  • The Noor-1 was launched from the Shahroud missile range in the country’s northeast. That too is a first, since previous satellite launches were traditionally made from the Qom Space Center in central Iran.
  • The satellite launch seems to have put an end to the recent string of launch failures observed in the Iranian space industry over the last five years, with the last successful civilian satellite launch taking place in 2015.

From New Intelligence Capabilities to Shifting the Geopolitical Landscape

The Iranian government, the IRGC and the media have provided very little information about the Noor-1’s capabilities, except to describe it as a “multi-purpose satellite with special uses in the defence sector.” Indeed, the IRGC launched the satellite without providing any advanced notice.

According to an analysis by Press TV, the satellite’s launch seems to indicate “that the IRGC has reached such technological maturity that it can now confidently plan and carry out intelligence warfare and military reconnaissance missions from space while gathering data that helps keep the Iranian skies safe.”

For its part, Mehr News similarly argues that the new satellite will enable the IRGC to monitor Earth from space. Geopolitical analyst Anthony Cartalucci told the news agency that for Iran, the Noor-1’s launch “is a major milestone and reflects a degree of technical competence that will serve as a warning to those who have for decades attempted to undermine Iranian sovereignty.” Specifically, he noted, “access to space enhances a nation’s economic and military capabilities, expanding methods for communication, surveillance, and signal intelligence.” Ultimately, Cartalucci said that Iran’s achievement “helps add a greater degree of balance to what many are calling the emerging multipolar world.”

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and amateur satellite tracker, told SpacePolicyOnline.com that the thing that surprised him most about the Noor-1’s launch was that it confirmed the existence of a separate, and apparently successful Iranian military space programme. Furthermore, he said, the Qased’s “solid upper stages are new, so it’s a bit surprising they worked the first time.”

Trump Plays Off Launch’s Significance…While Pompeo Demands Accountability

President Donald Trump appeared to dismiss the significance of the launch, boasting at a press conference Wednesday that US intelligence knows “more about Iran than they do,” and stressing that the US “knew it was going up” and “followed it very closely.” According to Trump, Tehran carried out the launch for publicity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressed a more worrisome sentiment, accusing the IRGC of being “terrorists” and suggesting that Iran should “be held accountable for what it has done,” claiming that the launch was a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the Iran nuclear deal.

It’s worth pointing out that the text of the resolution clearly stresses that Iran is to avoid “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” a capability Iranian officials have repeatedly denied pursuing.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that it was ironic that the US, “a nation that has flagrantly breached the norms of international law and violated UNSC Resolution 2231, is trying to deflect international condemnation by baselessly accusing Iran of noncompliance with the requirements of the Security Council”.

Iran’s foreign ministry has similarly stressed the defensive objectives of its space programme, and its ongoing commitment not to pursue the creation of nuclear weapons, while blasting the US over Washington’s own violations of Resolution 2231, including Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and sanctions against Iran.

On Thursday, an IRGC spokesperson announced that Iran now plans to launch a Noor-2 satellite, and may use solid fuel for the first stage.

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