Was Iran’s Space Probe a Success or a Flop?

Monday, Aug. 18, Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, said the Safir-e Omid (Ambassador of Hope) rocket had placed a dummy satellite in orbit the day before.

A US official in Washington said Tuesday that the launch was “a dramatic failure” and “the vehicle failed shortly after liftoff and in no way reached its intended position.”

Wednesday, Israel defense minister Ehud Barak said: “The good news is that the Iranians failed to put a satellite in space. The bad news is that they have made strides forward technologically-wise.”

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources affirm that none of the three evaluations of the Iranian space launch presented the facts accurately; each shaded the picture according to his respective government’s policy position.

The facts are that Sunday, Aug.17, Iran launched a very advanced missile, the Safir, whose range is up to 7,000 km, exhibiting for the first time a two-stage missile.

This was a major technological breakthrough for Iran.

Tehran was not aiming to place a satellite in orbit, as the Iranian defense minister claimed. The missile launched bore a carrier on which a satellite could be mounted.

It did not reach space because the missile’s second stage, supposed to have boosted it into orbit, got into trouble. During its separation from stage one, stage two shot up too rapidly and broke up while heading out of the Earth’s atmosphere. This was a technical hitch which can be remedied, and Iran’s missile engineers are undoubtedly on the job.

Our sources add that Iranian work methods differ from those of the West.

Whereas Western space planners hold back on test launches until they are certain their latest model of missile or plane is technologically ready to go, Iran prefers to accelerate the development process, carry out frequent test-firings, expose faults and then go back to the laboratory for solutions.

The Safir test demonstrated that Iran has achieved the potential for firing two-stage rockets into space – or against targets in Europe and Asia.

This feat can on no account be dismissed as “a dramatic failure,” in the words of the US official. Neither can it be said that the vehicle failed “shortly after liftoff.”

What did happen was that the vehicle failed only at the moment of separation of the two stages, when the vehicle was already on its way to orbit.

The Americans understandably tried to play down the Iranian achievement, especially since Tehran’s newfound ability to build long-range ballistic missiles provides Israel with yet another legitimate reason for a military attack – not only of its nuclear installations but also on its missile development facilities and industries.

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