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Iran puts satellite
into Earth orbit

BY STEPHEN CLARK
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: February 3, 2009;
Updated with more details

Iran launched its first satellite into orbit Monday using a modified homemade long-range missile, thrusting the Islamic republic into an elite club of space-faring nations, state media reported.

The small Omid communications satellite was launched Monday evening aboard a Safir 2 rocket, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Launch was likely around 1830 GMT, or around 10 p.m. Iran time, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who provides satellite data on the Internet.

Iran did not release the launch time in state news reports.

The 72-foot-tall Safir 2 rocket probably blasted off from a launch site in Iran's Semnan province in the north-central part of the country.

The launcher flew southeast over the Indian Ocean to avoid flying over neighboring countries, according to Charles Vick, senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-based military think tank.

Two objects from the launch, likely the Omid satellite and part of its booster, are circling Earth in oval-shaped orbits.

The orbits range in altitude from low points of 153 miles to high points of 235 miles and 273 miles. The orbital inclination is 55.5 degrees, according to U.S. military tracking data.

Iran joins a small group of countries with the ability to build and launch their own satellites into orbit.

The former Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in October 1957. The United States followed with the successful launch of Explorer 1 in January 1958.

France, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, India and Israel later developed and successfully flew their own space launchers.

Iran is the first new space-faring nation since Israel joined the club in 1988.

The launch was timed to occur during a 10-day celebration of the 30th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution, official news reports said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered Monday's launch and said the satellite was a "step toward justice and peace," according to state media.

"Iran's official presence in space has been added to the pages of history," Ahmadinejad said.

Iran constructed Omid and planned the launch under strict U.N. economic sanctions due to international suspicions of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The sanctions limit the international trade of goods that could be used on military projects, including programs related to satellite and rocket development.

U.S. officials said Monday's launch was a step in the wrong direction in Iran's relationship with the West.

"This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region," said Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary.

The development of space technology has far-reaching implications for Iran's missile program, according to U.S. officials.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood expressed "grave concern" over the launch.

"Developing a space launch vehicle that can put a satellite into orbit could possibly lead to the development of a ballistic missile system," Wood said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the satellite program is for "purely peaceful purposes," the Fars news agency reported.

Iran orbited its first satellite in 2005 on a Russian rocket, but Monday's launch was the country's first to use a homemade rocket launched from Iranian territory.

Omid, which means hope in Persian, carries experimental control systems, communications equipment, and a small remote sensing payload, Iranian news reports said.

Previous versions of the Safir rocket have completed several suborbital tests, including a mysterious flight last August that some believe may have been a failed satellite launch attempt.

Iranian news reports in August reported the Safir had successfully reached orbit, but Western intelligence officials said the rocket suffered a dramatic failure during the launch.

Observers believe the Safir rocket is based on Iran's Shahab 3 ballistic missile.

Iran plans several more satellites over the next few years to bolster disaster management programs and strengthen communications networks inside the country.

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