Strength In The Face Of Growing Crisis?
Amidst growing anti-government protests across the country, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched a new satellite-carrying rocket on Saturday.
Is this linked to the protests?
While the announcement came seven weeks after the protests began, following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, there’s little or no link between both developments. Iranian state television broadcast dramatic clips of the rocket launching from a desert launch site into a foggy sky, while reporting that the solid-fueled rocket, which it named a Ghaem-100 satellite carrier, had been successfully launched by the Guard. The location, which resembled Iran’s northeastern Shahroud Desert, was not mentioned in the report. The commander of the Guard’s aerospace division, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, expressed hope that the rocket will soon be used by the Guard to launch a brand-new satellite called Nahid into orbit.
What’s the significance of this?
The carrier would be able to launch a satellite weighing 80kg (176 pounds) into orbit about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Earth, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. Iran claims that, like its nuclear operations, its satellite program is intended for use in scientific research and other non-military purposes. But because the program can be used to create long-range missiles using the same technology, the United States and other Western nations have long had reservations about it. This development would draw more attention from the United States, which has criticized prior launches.
Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit – and in 2013 launched a monkey into space – in the last decade. However, there have been challenges with the program recently. Another satellite-carrying rocket program, the Simorgh program, has experienced five failed launches. Three researchers perished in a fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019, according to the authorities at the time. Later that year, former US President Donald Trump’s attention was drawn by a rocket explosion on a launchpad.
In the process, talks to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers – which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for a stop to its nuclear program – hit a gridlock months ago. According to Iran Human Rights, an organization based in Oslo, security forces, including paramilitary volunteers with the Revolutionary Guard, violently suppressed the ongoing protests, killing over 300 people, including 41 children.