Iran failed to launch another satellite into orbit earlier this month and appears to be preparing for another attempt, CNN reported Wednesday.
Satellite images, a U.S. official and a rocket expert all confirmed the failed launch, earlier this month, at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran's Semnan province. The attempt comes as Iran's space program has suffered a series of high-profile losses, while its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that launched a satellite into orbit last year.
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Satellite images captured by private firms Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies suggest that Iran is preparing for another lift off despite this failure.
The images showed increased activity at Imam Khomeini Spaceport over the past few days, which could mean another launch is imminent, experts told CNN. In addition to fuel containers and a mobile platform, the images show increased vehicle activity.
CNN quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland saying that “U.S. Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12.” Orland did not elaborate. The Pentagon and U.S. Space Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday from The Associated Press.
It wasn't immediately clear why Iran would have picked June 12 for a launch as Tehran typically schedules such launches for national commemorations. However, it did come in the run-up to Iran's presidential election last week, in which the Islamic Republic had hoped to boost turnout.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Russia is preparing to provide Iran with an advanced satellite that would enable it to track potential military targets across the Middle East.
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The plan would deliver a Russian-made Kanopus-V satellite equipped with a high-resolution camera which could be launched from Russia within months, the Post said.
And in April, Iran's Revolutionary Guard said it put the Islamic Republic's first military satellite into orbit, dramatically unveiling what experts described as a secret space program with a surprise launch that came amid wider tensions with the United States.
There was no immediate independent confirmation of the launch of the satellite, which the Guard called “Noor,” or light. The U.S. State Department and the Pentagon, which contend that such launches advance Iran’s ballistic missile program, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
However, such a launch immediately raised concerns among experts on whether the technology used could help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The U.S. has alleged such satellite launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution and called on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi will take over from Iran's outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who guided Tehran into its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions in the wider Mideast that continue today. Diplomats in Vienna now are negotiating a way for both Iran and the U.S. to re-enter the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Reuters contributed to this report.