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Tehran (UPI) Dec 1, 2009
As Iran appears to be lurching into confrontation with the United States once more, Tehran says it plans to launch a new communications satellite with no foreign help after Russia and Italy refused to send it into space.
The actions by Moscow and Rome underlined Iran's growing isolation following a severe crackdown on internal dissent following June's disputed presidential elections and Tehran's refusal to abandon its uranium enrichment program, a key element in its nuclear program.
The decision to go it alone with launching the new satellite named Mesbah-2, Farsi for Lantern, means Tehran is moving ahead with an ambitious space program and with developing rocket technology that could produce an intercontinental ballistic missile.
It also emphasizes the anger and frustration in Tehran over Russia's refusal to deliver a state-of-the-art air-defense system that the Iranians need to protect their nuclear facilities from a feared U.S. or Israeli attack, and Moscow's apparent support for tough new economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Israel claims that the satellite the Iranians plan to launch, probably around March 2011, is a surveillance craft designed to spy on the Jewish state and to target Iranian ballistic missiles.
But in late November, Gen. Mahdi Farahi, director of Iran's Aerospace Industries, insisted that Mesbah-2 was intended to bolster telecommunications from a low-Earth orbit for three years.
He did not explain why Iran would have sought outside help for the launch, since it has already notched up one successful launch into orbit on its own.
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others have been complaining about foot-dragging on the project by the Russians, who had said as far back as 2005 they would launch Mesbah-2 aboard a Cosmos-3 rocket.
When that failed to materialize, along with other Russian assurances, Farahi said Iran had turned to the Italians.
But Italy's Carlo Gavazzi Space Co., which had helped build two Mesbah craft, denied it would be involved in the launch project.
One of the two Mesbah variants produced in cooperation with the Italians was destroyed in a 2005 launch accident, when the satellite was first displayed.
The other is presumably the one the Iranians now plan to launch into space themselves.
The Iranians will likely use their 72-foot Safir-2 booster rocket to put the 132-pound Mesbah-2 into orbit.
That operation, according to U.S. missile expert Craig Covalt, is "designed as much to test the long-range ballistic missile capabilities of the booster as it is to perform a space mission."
Iran joined fewer than a dozen other countries capable of launching satellites into space on Feb. 3 with its first indigenously launched Omid-1, Hope in Farsi, research and telecoms satellite into orbit aboard a two-stage Safir, or Ambassador, booster from the Semnan launch site in the Great Salt Desert south of Tehran.
Jane's Intelligence Digest reported at the time: "Tehran now has established its status as having the most advanced space, missile and nuclear programs in the Muslim Middle East, confirming its technical superiority over its Arab rivals."
The successful launch "confirms that the Iranians have overcome the technological obstacles to launching a multi-stage missile, a process than can increase flight range considerably," Jane's concluded.
Omid burned up in April when it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. An earlier Omid launch failed.
Iran has announced that it plans to start sending research animals into space in 2010-11, initially using modified Shehab ballistic missiles as the booster rockets to reach an altitude of 100 miles.
Communications Minister Reza Taqipour says these will be followed by orbital missions as a prelude to an Islamic manned space program, by around 2021.
Following the Omid launch in February, senior officials said Iran was building four larger satellites but gave no details of their planned missions.
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