Iran on April 22 successfully launched the Noor military satellite, using a previously unknown Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) which Theran named Qased.
The US Space Force (USFF) later confirmed that Noor satellite reached orbit, together with a second object, assessed as the spent upper stage.
The mission was Iran’s first successful rocket launch in some time after repeated failed attempts to put a vehicle into space. The launch comes a couple of months after Theran’s failed attempt to launch an Earth-imaging satellite in February. The country’s space program also had a major setback in August 2019, when a rocket exploded on its launchpad ahead of a planned mission to space.
The Pentagon has long opposed Iran’s space ambitions, on the ground that Theran could potentially use the newly developed rocket technology to create a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Analysts have argued that the Qased has a strong relationship to the Shahab-3 ballistic missile Qasedand the Safir SLV, together with a number of unusual features for an SLV. According to this analysis, if SLV compromises had to be removed, restoring the design optimization for use as a ballistic missile, the Qased could potentially reach any target in Central Europe as well as some parts of Northern Europe, depending on the mass of its payload.
Iran demonstrated with its ballistic missile attack against Al Asad airbase in January, that it has made significant progress in improving the accuracy of its ballistic missiles, using maneuverable re-entry vehicles in combination with a terminal guidance system. Indeed, such a re-entry vehicle has also been tested by Theran on its Emad missile, with a stated maximum range of up to 1,700 km.
To date, Iran has officially declared that it limiting the maximum range of its ballistic missiles to 2,000 km; a sufficient range to reach Israel and Saudi Arabia, the main foes of Tehran.
The US government is instead opposing this narrative maintaining that Iran’s SLV development is nothing more than a cover for building long-range ICBMs.
While it is true that and optimized booster for launching satellites into orbit differs from an ICBM intended to deliver a warhead to a ground target, it is important to point out that much of the technology is similar.
Indeed, if the optimized booster can accelerate a small satellite to orbital velocity (about 7.8 km/s for low-Earth orbit), it can also accelerate a heavier armed payload to the velocity needed to reach for sub-orbital trajectories to distances of more than 2,000 km (above 4 km/s).
The Qased and the Safir reportedly use storable liquid propellants for their first stage (all stages for the Safir). The Safir and Simorgh upper stages use N2O4 oxidizer.
Notable, analysts argued that a ‘peaceful’ developments of SLV effort would most likely include the application of LOX cryogenic oxidizer with kerosene fuel for the upper stages (as done by SpaceX, for instance) as it would be more efficient for the weight than the propellants now use.
The Qased is smaller than the Safir and Simorgh and can be transported and erected using a trailer.
Also the United Nations (UN) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed its concerns as Iran persistently violates the 2015 Nuclear Plan agreements.
The IAEA has reported in a confidential document issued on Friday 5 June, that Tehran has exceeded the permitted amount of accumulated enriched uranium by eight times. Alongside these claims, Iran has reportedly continued to respond uncooperatively in issues of transparency. Both these actions are considered to be in violation of the terms that were accorded in the 2015 Nuclear Deal signed by the the Security Council five permanent members —China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, collectively known as the ‘P5’ – plus Germany and Iran.