he inauguration of Iran’s space center
by Iran’s top leadership signified a watershed in the country’s
military prowess and
growing role in global affairs. The event was widely touted by the Islamic Republic, with no less personage than its outspoken
president, MahmoudAhmadinejad, starring in the extensively televised festivities.
And a key event it certainly was: The viewers of Iran’s TV channels were treated to an eyeful of exciting sights:
an all Iranian satellite, a giant all Iranian satellite launch vehicle (SLV), a spaceport replete with a launching tower, a live firing of a “
research” missile and a static display of space components. Iran was celebrating its graduation to the status of the first Islamic space power, a graduation fraught with consequences to the region and to the world.
Almost every aspect of a well-integrated and coordinated space program was lined up for the viewer’s inspection. An indoor static display featured rocket motor pumps, control systems, an upper-stage rocket propulsion and attitude control package and a clamshell-type fairing for protecting a satellite during ascent. The last two items showed some wear and tear, hinting at an ongoing ground test program to qualify them for flight.
Outside, a tall new multistage space launch vehicle
– probably a mockup, not the real item yet – dominated the skyline. While its lower part demonstrated its Shahab 3 ancestry, its upper part was completely new, sporting at least one and possible two more stages, the whole assembly being capped by an aerodynamic fairing. The show included the first view ever of Iran’s nascent spaceport with a unique mobile launching tower.
Finally, the audience was treated to the awesome sight of the takeoff of a so-called research rocket that looked very similar to the standard Shahab 3ER ballistic missile, but that displayed some new and previously unseen features.
Even more significant than the sights were the words. Iran leaders were uncharacteristically frank in outlining their grand objective: “To achieve an influential airspace capability and to improve national self-confidence,” as stated by Iran’s Defense Minister MostafaNajjar.
also was quite explicit in outlining the short- and long-term goals of the space program: To orbit Iran’s first Sputnik, the Omid “Entry Ticket” satellite this summer and to be capable of making and orbiting “
high-resolution remote sensing” (read
spy) satellites by the middle of the next decade. This longer-term goal requires a heftier SLV than the one displayed at the event. Thus, the stated long-term policy includes by implication the development of a bigger, heavier multistage rocket.
This purportedly “
civilian” space program is as civilian as Iran’s nuclear program. In both cases, the shrewd Iranians are making a clever use of what the international community accepts as peaceful endeavors to mask the more sinister aspects of their path to global power.
Watchers of Iran’s space program were not surprised by the Feb.
revelations. Iran announced a space program, including the intention to orbit its own satellites, as early as 1998. Three years ago, Iran’s the
defense promised to orbit Iran’s first homemade satellite by a homemade SLV in mid-2005. Hints on a lightweight “entry ticket” satellite as well as heavier spy satellites of the Israeli
class were rife at that time in Iran’s media. The surprise is not in what was displayed on Feb.
, but why it took the Iranians so long to reach that point.
Nevertheless, the import of the inauguration event should not be taken lightly: It was a watershed event for Iran as well as for the world.
Iran’s imminent status as a spacefaring nation is sure to have significant domestic, regional and international implications. First, few events can compete with an indigenous space launch in uplifting
public morale and enhancing a regime’s stature in the eyes of its home audience. Iran’s orbiting of its own satellites will undoubtedly pluck the patriotic string in every Iranian’s bosom, overshadowing economic woes and liberal discontent.
Second, if indeed Iran will succeed to orbit the Omid by its own SLV next summer, it will become the first Islamic space power. There is no need to elaborate of what that will mean in the terms of prestige and influence in the Middle East and in the Islamic world at large.
Third, Iran’s planned spy satellites will pose new security challenges to the United States, to U.S. allies in the region and to Israel in particular. Just imagine the Iranians, of all hardliner regimes in the world, being able to peep into the air bases, military installations and key defense assets everywhere in the Middle East, in Europe and even in the United States. The security implications are nearly staggering.
Finally, the rockets that will carry those spy satellites to space will give Iran
true international clout. Anyone with a space launcher can drop a bomb anywhere in the world. The SLV displayed in the Feb.
event seems to be too light to drop sizable bombs, but once the next generation of Iranian SLVs matures, as it is bound to do
, the bomb-dropping capability will grow enormously. Critics of the U.S. plan to deploy missile defense in Europe cite Iran’s alleged inability to produce long-range, multistage rockets. Once the
beeps from space, such nave hopes will evaporate. Europe and the United States will do well to prepare their defenses in time for the threats ahead.
Uzi Rubin, an international consultant on ballistic missile proliferation and missile defense, was founding director of the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Missile Defense Organization.