Iran re­launches space am­bi­tions after up­roar over satel­lites

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

TEHRAN: Iran’s on-and-off space pro­gram has re­ceived a boost after a re­cent satel­lite launch was seen to an­noy Wash­ing­ton, with Tehran now dust­ing off plans for a manned mis­sion, per­haps with as­sis­tance from Moscow.

“Ten skilled pilots are cur­rently un­der­go­ing dif­fi­cult and in­ten­sive train­ing so that two of them … can be se­lected for the space launch,” the head of the Sci­ence Min­istry’s aero­space re­search cen­ter, Fathol­lah Omi, told the state broad­caster last week.

He said the plan was to put hu­mans into sub­or­bital space “in less than eight years.”

“In pre­lim­i­nary talks with Rus­sia’s main space com­pany, we have agreed to co­op­er­ate on this im­por­tant project and we are wait­ing for their de­fin­i­tive an­swer.”

Rus­sia has not con­firmed the talks, al­though Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Ro­gozin, who over­sees its space pro­gram, vis­ited Tehran two years ago to dis­cuss po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The Is­lamic Repub­lic’s sci­en­tists are also cel­e­brat­ing the fact that two mon­keys they fired into space in 2013 have re­cently given birth to their first baby.

“Aftab and Fargam were two mon­keys sent sep­a­rately into space and re­turned alive. Re­searchers are study­ing the ef­fect of a space trip on their baby,” Omi said.

Iran’s space pro­gram has pro­gressed in fits and starts.

It has sent a tur­tle, mouse and worms into space, and after the suc­cess­ful voy­age by the mon­keys, thenPres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad an­nounced he would like to be first to go up on an Ira­nian rocket.

But he was out of of­fice a few months later, and the whole pro­gram ap­peared to have been moth­balled earlier this year due to fi­nan­cial con­straints.

“It was es­ti­mated that putting a man into Earth or­bit would cost around $15 bil­lion to $20 bil­lion over 15 years. As a re­sult, the bud­get can­not be al­lo­cated for this project,” the deputy head of Iran’s space or­ga­ni­za­tion, Mo­ham­mad Ho­may­oun Sadr, said in May.

That de­ci­sion ap­pears to have been re­versed in the wake of the in­ter­na­tional furor over Iran’s test­ing of a new satel­lite launch rocket in July.

The 500-kilo­me­ter-range rocket – named Si­morgh after a bird from Per­sian leg­end and with the words “We can do it” in­scribed on the side – was launched from the newly in­au­gu­rated Imam Khome­ini Space Cen­ter in Sem­nan prov­ince.

The United States in par­tic­u­lar balks at any tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance that might po­ten­tially also ben­e­fit Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram, and Wash­ing­ton quickly threat­ened fresh sanc­tions.

Omi con­firmed the plans for hu­man space­flights, as well as a new 1,000-kilo­me­ter-range satel­lite rocket, had fol­lowed the “great re­ac­tion from the world” to the Si­morgh test.

“The Is­lamic Repub­lic re­acts very neg­a­tively when it feels it is held back,” said Ad­nan Ta­batabai, an Iran an­a­lyst and CEO of Ger­many’s CARPO think tank.

“Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and par­tic­u­larly its re­search and de­vel­op­ment be­came all the more pres­ti­gious and im­por­tant the more that Iran was un­der pres­sure by the West to halt it,” he said.

Iran’s four launches of do­mes­ti­cally pro­duced satel­lites since 2009 have all sparked con­dem­na­tion from the West.

The new Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Azari Jahromi said Wed­nes­day that a new satel­lite, named Doosti, was wait­ing to be launched.

“You send or­bital satel­lite car­rier rock­ets into space, and all of a sud­den you see they have cre­ated up­roar about it in the world,” Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei said in Au­gust.

“It is a task which is nec­es­sary for ev­ery coun­try and which is com­pletely nor­mal and or­di­nary.”

The con­tro­versy ap­pears to have re-en­er­gized the space pro­gram, which is run by the De­fense Min­istry.

“Its lead­ers like to lit­er­ally show that the sky is the limit to Iran’s tech­no­log­i­cal progress,” Ta­batabai said.

“And that safe­guard­ing revo­lu­tion­ary ideals and re­li­gious ide­ol­ogy can be rec­on­ciled with moder­nity.”

Iran sent live mon­keys into space in 2013.

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