Tehran successfully launched an experimental research rocket called Explorer-1 last week. According to Iranian information, the new launcher will be able to carry a small satellite into orbit. According to the Iranians, the Explorer-1 was launched to determine the exact orbital position for the satellite. Tehran unveiled the first indigenous satellite called Omid (Hope). According to Iranian plans, Omid will be launched by March 2009 and operate in low-earth orbit, hinting on the potential use of the satellite for strategic, earth observation mission (reconnaissance).

Last week Iran unveiled its new space center designed and built to support future satellites. The center has a launch pad from which the Omid will be launched, and an underground control center supporting the operation. Iran’s space programs were pioneered by the Sinah-1 satellite, launched by a Russian Kosmos-3 booster rocket in 2005. By 2010 Tehran plans to have four satellites in orbit, some of them placed in space by its indeginous satellite launchers.

Both Moscow and Washington are concerned over Iran’s continuous development of long-range missiles. The recent launch emphasizes Tehran’s thrust to extend the range and payload capacity of their long range ballistic missiles, under the shroud of scientific and research program. “It’s unfortunate Iran continues to test ballistic missiles. This regime continues to take steps that only further isolate it and the Iranian people from the international community,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. However, Iran denied that it’s space technology and research threat to peace and stability in the region.

Iranian media gave no details about the rocket, but based on visual inspection it is similar to the advanced version of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile (Shehab-3B), which has a smaller warhead and larger fuel capacity, resulting in maximum range of up to 2,000 km (about 1,200 mi). Furthermore, Iran is reportedly developing a larger Shahab 4 missile, with a range of 4,000 km (about 2,500 mi). Long-range ballistic missiles are considered an inherent element for a nuclear weapons program development believed to be undertaken by Iran through the past decade.

Video Below: A launch of a Shehab-3B missile. Note similarity to the Explorer-1 shown above (NTV)

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