On April 22, the IRGC announced that it had launched the country's first military satellite into orbit from the Dasht-e Kavir desert in central Iran. The "Noor" satellite was launched using a "three-stage Qased satellite launcher" and "a combination of solid and liquid fuels,” according to state media. It was the first time Iran had used the advanced Qased launch system.
"Today, the world’s powerful armies do not have a comprehensive defense plan without being in space, and achieving this superior technology that takes us into space and expands the realm of our abilities is a strategic achievement," said IRGC Commander Hossein Salami.
U.S. officials condemned the launch. "Iran needs to be held accountable for what it’s done," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on April 22. "They’ve now had a military organization that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite," he added. The United States has long been concerned that space launch technology could be used to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). But "no country has developed an ICBM from its space launch technology base; space launch programs have generally developed from military ballistic missile programs," according to the Congressional Research Service.
On April 24, Iran dismissed accusations that its space program was intended for nefarious purposes. “Employing the space technology with peaceful purposes is part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s defense program and scientific development, and none of the international treaties prohibit Iran from achieving and developing such technology which has been gained through the efforts of the Iranian experts and elites,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi.
On April 25, Secretary Pompeo refuted Iran’s claims that its space program was developed for innocuous purposes and called on “all peace-loving nations” to take action against Iran’s ballistic missile program. “This satellite launch vehicle and others launched before it incorporate technologies identical to, and interchangeable with, ballistic missiles, including longer-range systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs),” Pompeo said. “No country has ever pursued an ICBM capability except for the purpose of delivering nuclear weapons.” The following is a timeline of tensions over Iran’s space program, following by the full text of Secretary Pomeo’s statement.
Feb. 9: Iran announced that it had failed to put a Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit ahead of celebrations for the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11. “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,” said Defense Ministry space program spokesman Ahmad Hosseini.
Apr. 22: Iran announced that it had successfully put a military satellite into orbit for the first time. The IRGC reportedly used a new, more advanced satellite launcher, called "Qased," which was propelled by a combination of solid and liquid fuels.
#USSPACECOM monitors #space w best surveillance network/missile warning capability in the world. @DeptofDefense, @SpaceForceCSO watching Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch tech/overall ballistic missile prog — confident in our ability to #deter #defend all Iranian aggression. https://t.co/T1YFjOl0Oi— U.S. Space Command (@US_SpaceCom) April 22, 2020
At a press briefing, Secretary Pompeo said Iran’s satellite launch was inconsistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake activities related to the ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. “They’ve now had a military organization (the IRGC) that the United States has designated terrorists attempt to launch a satellite,” he said.
Apr. 23: Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mousavi said that Iran had a right to pursue scientific and technological advances. “No resolution prohibits Iran from launching a satellite into space, and the US reference to Resolution 2231 is definitely irrelevant and at odds with reality. Astonishingly, Resolution 2231 is the very resolution that Washington violated by withdrawing from the JCPOA (the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) [in May 2018], and is yet clearly pressuring other independent countries to breach,” Mousavi said.
Apr. 24: Britain expressed concern with Iran’s satellite launch. “Reports that Iran has carried out a satellite launch – using ballistic missile technology – are of significant concern and inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231,” the Foreign Office said in a statement. “The U.N. has called upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran must abide by this.”’
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised the satellite launch and said that Iran would continue to develop its space program. “This success is a sign that strengthening the space sector in the country and in the armed forces has been a correct and effective step,” Rouhani said.
Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said that “the continuous production of power and the use of up-to-date knowledge for the security and well-being of the Iranian people will continue from the hospital to the space.” He vowed that “new surprises are on the way.”
Apr. 25: Secretary Pompeo charged that Iran intended to use its civilian space program as a cover for the development of ballistic missile technology. “For years, Iran has claimed its space program is purely peaceful and civilian. The Trump Administration has never believed this fiction. This week’s launch of a military satellite by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, makes clear what we have said all along: Iran’s space program is neither peaceful nor entirely civilian,” Pompeo said in a statement.
@US_SpaceCom continues to track 2 objects @PeteAFB’s @18SPCS associated w/#space launch from Iran, characterizing NOUR 01(#SATCAT 45529) as 3U Cubesat. Iran states it has imaging capabilities—actually, it’s a tumbling webcam in space; unlikely providing intel. #spaceishard— Gen. Jay Raymond (@SpaceForceCSO) April 25, 2020
Statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
For years, Iran has claimed its space program is purely peaceful and civilian. The Trump Administration has never believed this fiction. This week’s launch of a military satellite by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, makes clear what we have said all along: Iran’s space program is neither peaceful nor entirely civilian.
In February 2020, the head of Iran’s national space agency, Morteza Berari, said Iran advocates for the “peaceful use of outer space.” He also said that “all our activities in the domain of outer space are transparent.” Iran’s Minister for Information claimed this week that “Iran’s space program is peaceful.” The most recent military launch, which was developed and conducted in secret, proves that these statements were lies.
This satellite launch vehicle and others launched before it incorporate technologies identical to, and interchangeable with, ballistic missiles, including longer-range systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs). No country has ever pursued an ICBM capability except for the purpose of delivering nuclear weapons.
All peace-loving nations must reject Iran’s development of ballistic-missile capable technologies and join together to constrain Iran’s dangerous missile programs. As a start, nations should support extending the UN conventional arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire this October. The world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and anti-Semitism should not be allowed to buy and sell conventional weapons. We also call on the European Union to sanction those individuals and entities working on Iran’s missile programs.
When the Iranian people are suffering and dying from the coronavirus pandemic, it is regrettable to see the regime waste its resources and efforts on provocative military pursuits that do nothing to help the Iranian people.