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Iran claims to have launched rocket with satellite carrier into space

Move comes during nuclear talks with world powers; unclear whether any of the 3 research devices onboard successfully entered orbit

  • Image taken from footage aired by Iranian state television shows a rocket that Iran announced it launched on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Iranian state television via AP)
    Image taken from footage aired by Iranian state television shows a rocket that Iran announced it launched on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Iranian state television via AP)
  • This photo, released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry on December 30, 2021, shows the launching of Simorgh, or 'Phoenix,' rocket in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
    This photo, released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry on December 30, 2021, shows the launching of Simorgh, or 'Phoenix,' rocket in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
  • Image taken from footage aired by Iranian state television shows a rocket that Iran announced it launched on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Iranian state television via AP)
    Image taken from footage aired by Iranian state television shows a rocket that Iran announced it launched on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (Iranian state television via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Thursday it launched a rocket with a satellite carrier bearing three research devices into space, though it’s unclear if any of the objects entered orbit around the Earth.

The state TV report, as well as others by semiofficial news agencies, did not say when the launch was conducted nor what devices the carrier brought with it. However, the launch comes amid ongoing negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal. Previous launches have drawn rebukes from the United States.

Ahmad Hosseini, an Iranian Defense Ministry spokesman, identified the rocket used as a Simorgh, or “Phoenix,” rocket. He said the three devices were sent up 470 kilometers (290 miles).

Hosseini was quoted as saying the “performance of the space center and the performance of the satellite carrier was done properly.”

However, no one immediately said if the objects launched reached orbit. Iran has suffered a series of setbacks in its space program in recent launches.

Iranian state media recently offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space program. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that successfully put a satellite into orbit last year.

In this satellite photo by Planet Labs Inc., a support vehicle stands parked alongside a massive white gantry that typically houses a rocket on the launch pad as activity is seen at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Semnan province, Iran, on Saturday, December 11, 2021. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Conducting a launch amid the Vienna talks fits the hard-line posture struck by Tehran’s negotiators, who already described six previous rounds of diplomacy as a “draft,” exasperating Western nations. Germany’s new foreign minister has gone as far as to warn that “time is running out for us at this point.”

Satellite images seen by The Associated Press suggested a launch was imminent earlier this month.

Iran’s civilian space program has seen a series of setbacks and fatal explosions plague it in recent years. One mysterious blast even caught the attention of then-US president Donald Trump in 2019, who tweeted out what appeared to be a classified US spy satellite picture of the explosion’s aftermath with the caption: “The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident.”

Meanwhile, the Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The head of the US Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that would not provide Iran vital intelligence — though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division stands in front of an Iranian rocket carrying a satellite in an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province, on April 22, 2020. (Sepahnews via AP)

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.

The US alleges such satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. Tehran also says it has not violated the UN resolution, as it only “called upon” Tehran not to conduct such tests.

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