DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United States has quietly acknowledged that Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard successfully put an imaging satellite into orbit this week in a launch that resembled others previously criticized by Washington as helping Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
The US military has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press since Iran announced the launch of the Noor-3 satellite on Wednesday, the latest successful launch by the Revolutionary Guard after Iran’s civilian space program faced a series of failed launches in recent years.
Early Friday, however, data published by the website space-track.org listed a launch Wednesday by Iran that put the Noor-3 satellite into orbit. Information for the website is supplied by the 18th Space Defense Squadron of the US Space Force, the newest arm of the American military.
It put the satellite at over 450 kilometers (280 miles) above the Earth’s surface, which corresponds to Iranian state media reports regarding the launch. It also identified the rocket carrying the satellite as a Qased, a three-stage rocket fueled by both liquid and solid fuels first launched by the Guard in 2020 when it unveiled its up-to-then-secret space program. “Noor” means “light” in Farsi, while “Qased” means “messenger.”
Authorities released a video of a rocket taking off from a mobile launcher without saying where it occurred. Details in the video earlier analyzed by the AP corresponded with a Guard base near Shahroud, about 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the capital, Tehran. The base is in Semnan province, which hosts the Imam Khomeini Spaceport from which Iran’s civilian space program operates.
The website space-track.org also listed the missile as having been launched from the Guard base at Shahroud.
Speaking Thursday night to Iranian state television, Guard space commander Gen. Ali Jafarabadi described the Noor-3 satellite as having “image accuracy that is two and a half times that of the Noor-2 satellite.” Noor-2, launched in March 2022, remains in orbit. Noor-1, launched in 2020, fell back to Earth last year.
Jafarabadi said Noor-3 has thrusters for the first time that allow it to maneuver in orbit. He also offered a wider description of Iran’s hopes for its satellite program, including potentially controlling drones. That could raise further concerns for the West and Ukraine, which Russia has bombarded with Iranian-made bomb-carrying drones for over a year.
“If you look at the recent wars around the world, you will see that success on the battlefield is very dependent on the use of satellite technologies,” Jafarabadi said. “Now the armed forces in all the progressive countries are trying to make all their equipment remote control, it means that to make it steerable, when a vessel or any other equipment takes a long distance from us, it is no longer possible to see and guide it, except through satellite.”
The image-taking capabilities of the Noor-3 remain unclear. International sanctions on Iran have locked it out of accessing commercially available imagery, forcing it to develop its own homegrown satellites. The head of the US Space Command dismissed the Noor-1 as a “tumbling webcam in space” that would not provide vital intelligence.
The United States says Iran’s satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity involving ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. UN sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missile program are due to expire on October 18.