Satellite images, expert suggest Iranian space launch coming

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, December 11, 2021. (Satellite photograph by Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
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, December 11, 2021. (Satellite photograph by Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

Iran appears to be preparing for a space launch, as negotiations continue in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers, according to an expert and satellite images.

The likely blast-off at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport comes as Iranian state media has offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches in the works for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space program, which has been beset by a series of failed launches. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that successfully put a satellite into orbit last year.

Conducting a launch amid the Vienna talks fits the hardline 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.”

But all this fits into a renewed focus on space by Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies Tehran’s program. With Iran’s former president Hassan Rouhani, who shepherded the nuclear deal out of office, concerns about alienating the talks with launches that the US asserts aids Tehran’s ballistic missile program likely have faded.

“They’re not walking on eggshells,” Lewis said. “I think Raisi’s people have a new balance in mind.”

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