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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launches new satellite-carrying rocket

Ghaem-100 can put a satellite into orbit more than 300 miles into space; Western countries have long been suspicious of the program

This image taken from video footage aired by Iranian state television, November 5, 2022, shows the launch of a satellite carrier rocket by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from an undisclosed desert location. (Iranian state television via AP)
File In this handout photo from August 9, 2022, a Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off to carry an Iranian Khayyam satellite into orbit at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (Roscosmos via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Saturday launched a new satellite-carrying rocket, state TV reported, seeking to demonstrate the force’s space prowess even as anti-government protests rage across the country.

State TV said the Guard successfully launched the solid-fueled rocket — what it called a Ghaem-100 satellite carrier.

State TV did not immediately show any footage of the launch. The state-run IRNA news agency reported that the carrier could put a satellite weighing 80 kg (176 pounds) into orbit some 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Earth.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guard’s aerospace division, said he hoped the Guard would soon use the rocket to put a new satellite, named Nahid, into orbit.

Iran says its satellite program, like its nuclear activities, is aimed at scientific research and other civilian applications.

The United States and other Western countries have long been suspicious of the program because the same technology can be used to develop long-range missiles. Previous launches have drawn rebukes from the US.

In August, the Khayyam satellite, built and launched by Russia on behalf of Iran, lofted into orbit from the Russia-controlled Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Iranian Space Agency has said the satellite will be used for agriculture and water resources planning, and the Russian embassy in Tehran said the spacecraft was devised for non-military purposes.

But Western experts have no doubts that the satellite is intended for spying. The satellite’s imaging capabilities are expected to present a significant challenge to Israel, which has itself used such technology for a long time.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The program has seen recent troubles, however. There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh program, another satellite-carrying rocket. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 killed three researchers, authorities said at the time. A rocket exploded on a launchpad later that year.

The Guard’s announcement came in the seventh week of protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained after allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women. The protests embroiling the country first focused on the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, but swiftly morphed into one of the biggest challenges to the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Protesters chant for overthrowing the clerical rule and the death of the supreme leader.

Security forces, including paramilitary volunteers with the Revolutionary Guard, have violently cracked down on the demonstrations, killing over 300 people, according to rights groups.

On Saturday, student unions in Iran reported protests in at least six major universities across the country. Universities have been hubs for unrest, fueling the protest movement despite the crackdown.

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