According to the Iranian news agencies, Iran has successfully launched its first satellite, dubbed Omid (hope) into orbit. It went aloft on a 72-foot Safir rocket, and was an all-domestic build. But should we worry about this development?
The technology required to place a satellite into orbit is about as sophisticated as that required to direct a ballistic missile to a long range target–essentially both objectives need a powerful multi-staged rocket that can loft a payload beyond the atmosphere, and then direct it to a precise destination. In space the end-point is the desired orbit, for an ICBM its an earth-based target in another continent.
Safir’s name itself means “messenger,” and the rocket was built using Iran’s ballistic missile Shahab-3 technology as a first stage. It reportedly has a range of 1200 miles in its missile incarnation, so an advanced second stage could give the payload–or warhead–an intercontinental reach.
But with tracking systems showing an item in orbit, should we actually worry?
If the country has produced an orbital launcher, it’s got a de facto ICBM, albeit with an unknown carrying capacity. There would remain the complex matter of developing a payload that would act as a warhead.
But no one should worry yet. Iran’s media and military have a history of hoaxing the foreign press–remember the famous badly-photoshopped missile test fiasco? And you can bet that there’s a lot of frantic “behind the scenes” action by the international community to work out how to react and how to get Iran to limit the tech.
There’s no particular reason to think that Iranian researchers haven’t produced an orbital-capable rocket. After all SpaceX, a private U.S. company, achieved the feat last year in a world’s first for a private company. And if the Safir launch does prove merely a bit of media hocus-pocus, then no reason that Iran won’t achieve the feat soon. The head of Iran’s Space Agency even told the press there’s a plan to do another satellite launch by next summer to improve Iran’s telecommunications network.
And that’s probably the thing to focus on: Iran is making a political move, and like many countries it’s technological innovation is progressing.