Weeks after the Iranian government had announced it was building new launch bases for its domestic satellite program, newly published pictures of one such site have led analysts to conclude it was designed to test ballistic missiles rather than launch space rockets, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The new site is close to Iran’s first space center in the northern Semnan province. A picture of the base published by IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments shows a 70 ft. tall launch tower sitting on a 600 by 420 ft. launch pad. The picture also shows a 375 ft. long exhaust deflector.
The Telegraph quotes analysts who say they base their speculation on the fact that the unfinished site, located 25 miles south east of the city of Shahrud, does not include a storage facility for the liquid rocket fuel which is used in the Iranian space program. This would suggest that the base is being built for ballistic missiles, which use solid fuel.
Matthew Clements, who edited these assessments, said: “This site could be a facility for launching satellites into orbit. However, Iran is already building at least one other site for this purpose and, looking at the satellite imagery we have got, we believe that this facility is most likely used for testing ballistic missiles. Its location and orientation would be suitable for long-range missile tests as they would fly over Iranian territory for 870 miles, meaning large quantities of flight data could be gathered before they drop into the Indian Ocean.”
“At the same time,” Clements added, “we can’t see any storage facilities for the liquid fuel needed for the rockets that launch satellites, suggesting it will be used for solid-fuel ballistic missiles.”
He also said there was no indication that the base was a nuclear facility.
In July, Iranian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Mohammad Hassan Nami announced that Iran is planning to launch several new space centers to “monitor and observe different space objects and satellites passing through the country’s atmosphere,” and introduced the new space center in Semnan province.
“We are building other centers too and we are trying to have a powerful start,” he added.
But if the entire project turns out to be a ruse intended to hide Iran’s efforts to produce a missile with the range to hit Tel-Aviv, it would be the first time such a ruse was attempted using a monkey.
In January, Iran’s Aerospace Industries announced that it has sent a monkey into space on the back of Pishgam (Pioneer) explorer rocket, and that the monkey came back.
Aerospace Industries said it was planning to send humans into space.
But Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute who has written about the Iranian missile program, told the Telegraph Iran’s actual plans are far more sinister: “We often talk about Iran’s nuclear program,” Joshi said, “but what really spooks countries in the region is the ballistic missiles that could act as a delivery system.”
He said Iran had been laboring to develop solid fuel rockets which are quicker to deploy than liquid fuel versions. He commented: “If you look at why their missile program has been so slow, one reason is their difficulties with solid fuel. A testing site which helps in that regard is concerning. Testing is critical. You don’t improve missiles until you test them.”