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Iran says it launched three "research" satellites into space

Iran nuclear talks resume in Vienna
Iran nuclear talks resume in Vienna 04:33

Tehran, Iran — Iran announced Thursday that it launched a satellite carrier rocket bearing three "research" devices into space, though it's unclear whether any of the objects entered orbit around Earth.

The state TV report, as well as others by Iran's semiofficial news agencies, didn't say when the launch was conducted. However, the launch comes amid difficult negotiations in Vienna over Iran's tattered nuclear deal.

Previous launches have drawn rebukes from the United States. The U.S. State Department, Space Force and the Pentagon didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ahmad Hosseini, a Defense Ministry spokesman, identified the rocket as a Simorgh, or "Phoenix" rocket. He said the three devices were sent up 290 miles.

Iran launches satellite carrier rocket "Simorgh"
Picture obtained on December 30, 2021 shows what Tehran said was the Iranian satellite carrier rocket "Simorgh" being launched into space.   WANA NEWS AGENCY / Ministry of Defense of Iran/ Handout via REUTERS

Hosseini was quoted as saying the "performance of the space center and the performance of the satellite carrier was done properly." He described the launch as "initial," suggesting more are on the way.

The Reuters news agency quoted him as saying in comments on state TV, "The intended research objectives of this launch were achieved. This was done as a preliminary launch. ... God willing, we will have an operational launch soon."

Iranian state TV showed footage of what it said was the liftoff of the launch vehicle, Reuters said.

Iran's TV aired footage of the white rocket emblazoned with the words "Simorgh satellite carrier" and the slogan "We can" shooting into the morning sky from Iran's Imam Khomeini Spaceport. A state TV reporter at a nearby desert site hailed the launch as "another achievement by Iranian scientists."

However, officials were silent on whether the launched objects had actually reached orbit. Iran's civilian space program has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including fatal fires and a launchpad rocket explosion that drew the attention of former President Donald Trump.

Iranian state media recently offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches for the Islamic Republic's civilian space program. Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that successfully put a satellite into orbit last year.

The blastoffs have raised concerns in Washington about whether the technology used to launch satellites could advance Iran's ballistic missile development. The United States says such satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to steer clear of any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran, which long has said it doesn't seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests don't have a military component.

Announcing a launch as nuclear negotiators meet in Vienna aligns with Tehran's hardline posture under President Ebrahim Raisi, a recently elected conservative cleric.

New Iranian demands in the nuclear talks have exasperated Western nations and heightened regional tensions as Tehran presses ahead with atomic advancements. Diplomats have repeatedly raised the alarm that time is running out to restore the accord, which collapsed three years ago when America unilaterally withdrew under then-President Trump.

Iran has now abandoned all limitations under the agreement, and has ramped up uranium enrichment from under 4% purity to 60% - a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. International inspectors face challenges in monitoring Tehran's advances.

Satellite images seen by The Associated Press suggested a launch was imminent earlier this month. The images showed preparations at the spaceport in the desert plains of Iran's rural Semnan province, some 150 miles southeast of Tehran.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013, it launched a monkey into space. But under Raisi, the government appears to have sharpened its focus on space. Iran's Supreme Council of Space has met for the first time in 11 years.

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