Iran today unveiled a short-range ballistic missile it said can be powered by a ‘new generation’ of engines designed to put satellites into orbit.
The Revolutionary Guards’ said the Raad-500 missile was equipped with new Zoheir engines made of composite materials lighter than on earlier steel models.
It also unveiled Salman engines made of the same materials but with a ‘movable nozzle’ for the delivery of satellites into space.
The Raad was ‘a new generation missile that has half the weight of a Fateh-110 missile but with 200 kilometres more range’, the Guards Sepahnews website said.
US officials raised concerns in the past about Iran’s satellite programme, describing the launch of a carrier rocket in January 2019 as a ‘provocation’.
The Fateh-110 is a ballistic ground-to-ground missile first unveiled in 2002. Its latest generation has a range of 186 miles.
It comes as Iran announced it was counting down to the launch of a scientific observation satellite today.
Communication minister Morteza Berari said the satellite’s ‘primary mission’ would be collecting imagery, adding that Iran needed such data to study earthquakes, deal with natural disasters and develop its agriculture.
Once the satellite is in orbit, the first picture that it will transmit will be of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last month, minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said today.
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Major General Hossein Salami unveiled the ballistic missile and engines alongside IRGC aerospace chief Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh.
‘The complicated achievements on the bleeding edge of global technology that were unveiled today are our key to entering space,’ Salami said.
Salami noted the movable nozzle on the new engine allowed ‘manoeuvrability beyond the atmosphere’ and amounted to a ‘leap in modern missile technology’.
The new technologies that made the missiles ‘cheaper, lighter, faster and more precise’ could be applied to all of Iran’s missile classes, he added.
‘Beginning countdown to launch #Zafar_Satellite in the next few hours… In the Name of God,’ Azari-Jahromi wrote on Twitter.
On February 1, the head of Iran’s space agency said the 113-kilogramme Zafar – which means Victory in Farsi – would be launched into orbit 329 miles above Earth by a Simorgh rocket.
Tensions between Iran and its arch foe the United States have soared since May 2018 when President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal that offered Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons.
Diplomatic relations reached the lowest level in decades after Soleimani was killed. Iran retaliated with a missile attack against two US bases in Iraq.
Washington says it seeks to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile programme as well as its ‘destabilising behaviour’ in the region.
It has since slapped crippling sanctions on Iran as part of its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, with Tehran hitting back by progressively rolling back commitments to the nuclear deal.
The US has also raised concerns in the past about Iran’s satellite programme, saying the launch of a carrier rocket in January 2019 amounted to a violation of curbs on its development of ballistic missiles.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a UN Security Council resolution.
A Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite rocket at its launch site at an undisclosed location in Iran (file image). The country’s telecommunications minister announced the launch of a scientific satellite today on Twitter
Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in 2016. The first picture the Iranian satellite will transmit will be of the Iranian military commander, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last month
In January 2019, Tehran announced that its Payam – Message in Farsi – satellite had failed to reach orbit, after authorities said they launched it to collect data on the environment in Iran.
The US said the launch of the carrier rocket was a violation of a 2015 UN Security Council resolution which endorsed an international accord on curbing Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The United States says it is concerned that long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.
Tehran denies that satellite activity is a cover for missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.
President Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions on Iran following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from an international accord designed to curb Iran’s nuclear programme.
Trump said the nuclear deal did not go far enough and did not include restrictions on Tehran’s missile programme.
A satellite image of a failed Iranian rocket launch at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Semnan, Iran, last August
Resolution 2231 called on Iran to refrain from any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and do not violate the security council resolution.
Tehran confirmed in September that an explosion occurred at one of its satellite launch pads due to a technical fault, and slammed Trump for ‘gleefully’ tweeting about it.
Replying to a tweet that asked what if Zafar fails like it predecessor, Jahromi said ‘we will try again’.
Iran’s internet services have faced cyber attacks for the past two days, according to the ministry. Officials have not elaborated on the source of the attack or its likely motives.
Iran launched its first satellite Omid (Hope) in 2009 and the Rasad (Observation) satellite was sent into orbit in June 2011.
Tehran said in 2012 that it had successfully put its third domestically-made satellite Navid (Promise) into orbit.