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Blurring Lines Between Iran’s Civilian and Military Aspirations

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

In a move that further intensifies global concerns around Iran's military advancements, Eisa Zarepour, Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Technology, has announced the successful launch of the Nour-3 imaging satellite by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Aerospace using the Qassed satellite launch vehicle. Despite the satellite’s purported aim to boost Iran’s communication infrastructure, especially in remote areas, the launch has heightened international anxiety.

The use of technology closely mirrors ballistic missile technology points toward Iran's potential strategic intention of developing extended-range solid-propellant ballistic missiles alongside its advancing nuclear program. These advancements, in tandem, underline a growing threat that Iran might be inching closer toward the ability to deploy nuclear warheads using long-range ballistic missiles.

US State Department Spokesman said (September 28) following the launch that:

"We have long made clear our concerns about Iran’s space launch vehicle programs, that they provide a pathway to expand its longer-range missile systems. Space launch vehicles (SLVs) incorporate technologies virtually identical and interchangeable to – those used in ballistic missiles.

Iran’s continued advancement of its ballistic missile capabilities poses a serious threat to regional and international security and remains a significant nonproliferation concern…we continue to use a variety of nonproliferation tools, including sanctions, to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others".

Further augmenting its space presence, Iran, as per Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, is slated to launch an additional two to three satellites into orbit this year. "We are involved in the development and launch of satellites. Under our plan, we will have 2 to 3 satellite launches this year, something we hope to be successful” .

After the recent satellite launch, Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division, announced the force's intention to conduct two additional satellite launches by the conclusion of the current Iranian calendar year, ending in late March. Hajizadeh expressed that these launches will facilitate Iran in establishing a “constellation of satellites” in space in the future.

Minister of Information and Communications Technology. Zarepour declared (September 27) the successful launch of a Nour-3 imaging satellite by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Aerospace. Utilizing the three-stage Qassed (messenger) satellite launch vehicle (SLV), the satellite was positioned into orbit at 450 km. The IRGC said the satellite traveled 7.6 kilometers per second, allowing it to be placed into orbit some 500 seconds after its launch.

Zarepour said that Nour-3 is outfitted with "cutting-edge communication technology" and will significantly enhance Iran’s communications infrastructure, particularly in isolated areas. “I congratulate all Iranians, those active in the country’s space industry, and the IRGC’s space experts for this success. God willing, this year will be a fruitful year for the country’s space industry,” Zarepour said on his X account.

Eisa Zarepour was one of seven Iranians designated (October 2022) for the shutdown of Iran’s Internet access and the continued violence against peaceful protesters in the wake of the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly and died in the custody of Iran’s Morality Police.

IRGC Chief Major General Hussein Salami declared on Wednesday that the recently launched Noor-3 imaging satellite will be employed for military intelligence objectives. “The aggregation of information received and gathered from Earth will fulfill the intelligence requirements of the IRGC,” he conveyed to an assembly of IRGC officers and veterans in Tehran. Providing further details about its specifications, Salami noted that the Nour-3 satellite exceeds its predecessor, Noor-2, by seven kilograms and is equipped with more advanced imaging apparatus, capable of delivering higher precision and enhanced quality images.

The initial version of the Nour satellite was successfully launched into a 425km (265 miles) orbit above the Earth in April 2020, marking it as Iran's first military reconnaissance satellite. On 8 March 2022, the second version of the Nour satellite was sent into a lower orbit of 500km (310 miles) using a mixed-fuel carrier,

The details concerning Iran's potential transition from a liquid propulsion system to a solid one, or a possible substitution of the initial stage, remain indeterminate. The telemetry metrics from the Nour-3 satellite launch demonstrate a significant enhancement relative to prior launches.

The Nour-1 satellite and the Nour-2 were launched from the Shahroud facility in Semnan province using a Qassed SLV. This has evoked concerns, suggesting that the IRGC's space program might be geared more towards developing launched extended-range solid-propellant ballistic missiles than purely satellite launches. Following the satellite launch of Nour-2, France, Germany, and the UK formally submitted a complaint to the UN Security Council. They argue that the launch violates Resolution 2231's prohibition on Iran developing nuclear-capable missiles.

The concern about IRGC's space program revolves around the technologies and methods it employs to launch satellites, similar to ballistic missile technology, such as propulsion systems, launch vehicles, and guidance systems. These shared technologies mean that advancements in satellite launch capabilities can directly translate to improvements in ballistic missile technology.

The Qassed satellite carrier, used by IRGC for satellite launches, is a concern because it resembles ballistic missile technology. The same launch vehicle can deploy satellites and deliver warheads, further blurring the line between civilian and military applications. The knowledge and infrastructure to build satellite launch vehicles could be repurposed to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. ICBMs.

The use of mobile launchers for deploying satellites is another area of concern. Mobile launchers are commonly associated with military applications, allowing for the rapid deployment and launch of missiles from unpredictable locations. This technology is not typically used for civilian satellite launches, raising suspicions about the true purpose of the technology.

Mobile launcher used

As Iran strides in its nuclear program, the parallel development of long-range ballistic missile capabilities is a significant regional and international concern. This advancement enhances Iran's capacity to launch missiles that can eventually carry conventional and potentially nuclear warheads.


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