Iran’s Missile Test Disguised a Failed Satellite Launch into Orbit

Iran’s Shihab medium-range ballistic missile, launched from the Semnan site Jan. 29, flew 600 miles before exploding during failed reentry, according to unnamed US officials.
This was Iran’s first missile test during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Yet, two days later, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif denied that Iran had tested a new ballistic missile. Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault,
he also trotted out Iran’s standard refrain that its ballistic missiles were “not designed for carrying a nuclear weapon” and therefore did not violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which bars activity on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
He insisted that Iran’s missiles were for its own “legitimate defense” for which Iranians “never depend on anyone else.”
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources wonder how far the US officials and Iranian foreign minister should be believed. Western and Middle East intelligence agencies point out that Iran has in the past chosen the Fajr (New Year) festival for three out of four of its successful launches of satellites into orbit.
If that is what it was, the payload may have been the 50-kg experimental Nahid homemade satellite which was scheduled for launch before the end of the current Persian year on March 21. It could have been inserted into low earth orbit of 250x320km by a Safir-1B LV.
Indeed, on Jan. 26, Sorena Sattari, Iran’s vice-president for science and technology, said Iran would attempt one or two satellite launches before the end of March.
Sattari was taken to have referred to Iran’s heaviest satellite, the 100-kg remote sensing Toloe, and its launch into a 500-km orbit by March 21, by the new Simorgh SLV.
However, this putative launch, conducted as it was a few days ahead of the Fajr festival, would have given Iran’s propagandists breathing space: a failure would have left time for concealment, whereas a success could be glorified in time for the festivities.
It therefore suited Iran’s book for US officials to identity the launch as the test of a medium-range ballistic missile, because its failure on reentry conveniently disguised the satellite’s defective performance.
Furthermore, Trump’s national security team will insist on never accepting Iran’s development of military satellites. This doubled the importance of concealing the launch.
Iran’s Imam Khomeini space base near Semnan has been expanded by North Korean engineers, to accommodate larger rockets, like the Simorgh.
The probable satellite launch coincided with the visit of North Korean officials to Tehran. They told reporters that they had discussed with Iranian officials ways of strengthening bilateral ties and jointly “resisting” the US and its allies.
The Korean diplomat (who was quoted but not named by Iranian media) said that expanding ties with Tehran was among Pyongyang’s top priorities. He added: “America is the source of instability and insecurity in different parts of the world. North Korea backs Iran’s positions to oppose America’s bullying and imperialistic interference.”

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