We've reported on the questionable truthiness of previous Iranian space race news before, but this latest one is undoubtedly the hottest item: Iran is saying it just launched a small capsule carrying live creatures into the void--for science.
According to the official Iranian News Agency, the rocket was called Kavoshgar-3 (translating as "Explorer-3") and it carried a small capsule bearing a rat, two turtles and some worms--pictures of the animals apparently being loaded into the rocket were shown on state TV. The capsule was also bearing telemetry gear so that it could transmit back data on the live payload, including video, back to Earth.
The rocket is apparently an improved version of the earlier Kavoshgar rockets, first launched back in February 2008, and this latest launch has been expected for a while since the previous Kavoshgar-2 rocket made a successful pop-gun ballistic ride into space back in November 2008. That rocket was a two-stage solid-fueled missile with the third stage carrying a science package that returned to Earth under a parachute.
It's not confirmed by outside observers (who'd be able to monitor the craft's radio signal) whether the flight was a complete success yet, nor whether the animals were returned safely to the ground. Neither do we understand how powerful or successful the rocket itself was--or if it included a third powered stage, which would've significantly increased its range compared to the earlier models (though the fact it's "improved" suggests this could be the case).
Why should you care about the space efforts of Iran though? As we've pointed out before, a solid-fueled space rocket like this is essentially an ICBM that's been repurposed into a space vehicle--much like the very first space rockets fired off by the U.S. itself. The main difference is the trajectory and the payload: For a pop-gun ballistic space ride (which is what the nascent space tourism companies in the U.S. are going to do) most of the energy of the rocket is expended in achieving altitude, whereas an ICBM tries, of course, to achieve a greater range over the ground. Considering Iran said it successfully tested a Sejil-2 missile in December, which is an ICBM with enough range to reach parts of Europe, many scientific and political eyes are watching Iran's space race efforts very closely. The country's leaders insist it's for peaceful purposes.
Check out the news clip below to see the launch, alongside the unveiling of future satellite vehicles:
[Via New York Times]