Iran's Space Monkey Is Merely a PR Stunt

Despite the claims by Iran that their recent rocket launch is a breakthrough in their space program, experts say nothing new has been achieved.

Iran announced Monday that it launched a ballistic missile carrying a Rhesus monkey to a height of 120 kilometers above earth. The monkey was reported to have returned safely and the experiment heralded a technological breakthrough for the Islamic Republic. According to experts however, it was little more than a publicity exercise and had no scientific, technological or military significance.

The Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi announced the launch of the Pishgam (pioneer) rose to a height of 120 kilometer above earth carrying a pressurized capsule with the lab monkey. This wasn't Iran's first attempt to launch a monkey into space. They tried first in late summer 2011 but the launch failed and though Iran failed to acknowledge it, the monkey did not survive.

According to the Iranian announcements, this time the monkey made it and returned to earth after a few minutes of flight in its protective capsule. Defense Minister Vahidi "the missile fulfilled its mission at a height of 360,000 feet (120 kilometer) well." He said that this was another stage towards having an Iranian astronaut in space and that Iran would shortly be building its own space center.

But it doesn't seem that the launch was much of an achievement. The experiment did not prove any new ballistic capabilities and Iran has been capable of launching a missile out of the atmosphere (over 100 kilometers) for years now. The missile of the Kavoshger (explorer) series is actually a longer version of the Iranian medium-range missile, Fateh-110 which has been for a decade in operational use by the Iranian army and is capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 300 kilometers. The Syrian army also has its own version of the Fateh-110, built in Syria and called the M-600, as have Hezbollah in Lebanon.

According to Tal Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, "the launch's timing fits in with the beginning of the ten 'days of dawn' which commemorate the achievements of the Islamic revolution and include a day for the Iranian space industry. The main value of the experiment is in the public relations field and you cannot learn from it anything regarding Iran's achievements in rocketry or their military uses."

Follow Anshel Pfeffer on Twitter: @AnshelPfeffer

AP