Iran Fails to Launch Satellite, U.S. Reaction

On February 9, Iran attempted to put a satellite into orbit but failed. The Simorgh (Phoenix) rocket used in the launch did not reach the speed needed to put the Zafar (Victory) 1 communications satellite into orbit. “Stage-1 and stage-2 motors of the carrier functioned properly and the satellite was successfully detached from its carrier, but at the end of its path it did not reach the required speed for being put in the orbit,” Defense Ministry space program spokesman Ahmad Hosseini told state television. Government officials and state media, however, put a positive spin on the incident. The following video was broadcast by English-language outlet Press TV. 


Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi also downplayed the failure. In a tweet, he recalled failed U.S. launches. 


The launch was the latest in a series of setbacks. Iran failed to launch the Payam and Doosti satellites in 2019. In August, a rocket exploded on the launchpad. In February 2019, a fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center killed three researchers. 

The United States has long alleged that satellite launches are related to ballistic missile technology and would therefore be violations of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. “Each launch, whether failed or not, further allows Iran to gain experience using such technologies that could benefit its missile programs under the guise of a peaceful space program,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 11. The following is the full text of his statement with information on Iran's space and ballistic missile programs from the Congressional Research Service.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The Iranian regime uses satellite launches to develop its ballistic missile capabilities.  The technologies used to launch satellites into orbit are virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in longer range systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Each launch, whether failed or not, further allows Iran to gain experience using such technologies that could benefit its missile programs under the guise of a peaceful space program.

Iran’s series of space launches reflects the failure of the Iran deal to constrain testing that could support further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program.  The Iran deal lifted the prohibition on Iran’s missile testing and development of systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and we are seeing the dangerous consequences today.  The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism should not be allowed to develop and test ballistic missiles.  This common sense standard must be restored by the international community.

The United States will continue to build support around the world to confront the Iranian regime’s reckless ballistic missile activity, and we will continue to impose enormous pressure on the regime to change its behavior.

Congressional Research Service 

Excerpt from "Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs" by Stephen M. McCall

Space Launch and Long-Range Missiles

Some have long believed Iran’s space launch program could mask the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with ranges in excess of 5,500 km that could threaten targets throughout Europe, and even the United States (at least 10,000 km). According to the intelligence community (IC) in 2018, “Tehran’s desire to
deter the United States might drive it to field an ICBM. Progress on Iran’s space program, such as the launch of the Simorgh SLV in July 2017, could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use similar technologies.”

ICBMs share many similar technologies and processes inherent in a space launch program, but many years ago Iran outlined a long-term dedicated space launch effort (that has since slowed considerably) that is not simply a cover for ICBM development. In addition, no country has developed an ICBM from its space launch technology base; space launch programs have generally developed from military ballistic missile programs.

In 1999, the IC first assessed that Iran could test an ICBM by 2015 if it received sufficient foreign assistance, especially from a country such as China or Russia. CRS
assessed in 2012 that it was “increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015 for several reasons: Iran does not appear to be receiving the degree of foreign support many believe would be necessary; Iran has found it increasingly difficult to acquire certain critical components and materials because of sanctions; and Iran has not demonstrated the kind of flight test program many view as necessary to produce an ICBM.” 

Although not representing the IC, Adm. Gortney (Northern Command) seemingly updated the U.S. government assessment, stating on March 10, 2016: “Iran has successfully orbited satellites using its ICBM-class booster as early as this year. In light of these advances we assess Iran may be able to deploy an operational ICBM by 2020 if the regime chooses to do so.”

Click here for the full report. 

For more information, see Michael Elleman's chapter on Iran's ballistic missile program.