Iran launches 3 satellites into orbit together as West grumbles over program

Launch marks first successful use of two-stage Simorgh rocket, week after separate flight condemned by West over fears technology could be used to carry nukes

This photo released by the Iranian Defense Ministry on Jan. 28, 2024, claims to show a satellite carrier being launched at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran's rural Semnan province  (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
This photo released by the Iranian Defense Ministry on Jan. 28, 2024, claims to show a satellite carrier being launched at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran's rural Semnan province (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Iran on Sunday said it simultaneously launched three satellites into orbit, nearly a week after the launch of a research satellite by the Revolutionary Guards drew Western criticism.

The state-run IRNA news agency said the launch also saw the successful use of Iran’s two-stage Simorgh (Phoenix) rocket, which has had multiple failures in the past.

“Three Iranian satellites have been successfully launched into orbit for the first time,” state TV reported.

The Mahda satellite, which weighs around 32 kilograms and was developed by Iran’s Space Agency, is designed to test advanced satellite subsystems, the official IRNA news agency said.

The other two, Kayhan 2 and Hatef, weigh under 10 kilograms each and are aimed to test space-based positioning technology and narrowband communication, IRNA added.

Last week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sent the research satellite Soraya into space.

This photo released by the Iranian Defense Ministry on Sunday, January 28, 2024, claims to show the Simorgh, or “Phoenix,” satellite carrier before being launched at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province. Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Britain, France, and Germany condemned that launch in a statement rejected by Iran as “interventionist.”

Western governments including the United States have repeatedly warned Iran against such launches, saying the same technology can be used for ballistic missiles, including ones designed to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Iran has countered that it is not seeking nuclear weapons and that its satellite and rocket launches are for civil or defense purposes only.

The Islamic Republic has struggled with several satellite launch failures in the past.

The successful launch of its first military satellite into orbit, Nour-1, in April 2020 drew a sharp rebuke from the United States.

Tehran has been under crippling US sanctions since Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal which granted Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear activities designed to prevent it from developing an atomic warhead.

Iran has always denied any ambition to develop nuclear weapons capability, insisting that its activities are entirely peaceful.

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