AFP: Iran said on Monday that a home-built rocket sent into space in a move that triggered US concern over possible military use will be able to take a satellite into low orbit around the earth.
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said on Monday that a home-built rocket sent into space in a move that triggered US concern over possible military use will be able to take a satellite into low orbit around the earth.
Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar also vowed that Iran will soon put its own satellite into orbit, after a dummy was sent into space in Sunday's rocket launch.
The development was likely to add to international concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, which Western nations fear could be a cover for ambitions to build the atomic bomb although Tehran insists its aims are peaceful.
State television said the Safir (Ambassador) rocket is capable of putting a "light satellite into low earth orbit" between 250 and 500 kilometres (150 and 300 miles) above the earth.
It showed footage of the rocket launch, saying that the Safir is about 22 metres (72 feet) long, with a diameter of 1.25 metres (a little over four feet) and weighing more than 26 tonnes.
Iran's most powerful military missile, the Shahab-3, has a diameter of 1.30 metres and measures 17 metres in length.
Sunday's launch raised concerns in Washington that the rocket technology could be diverted to military use.
"The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
"This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile programme have been a subject of IAEA discussions and are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations," he said, referring to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But the head of the space agency in Israel, which considers the Islamic republic its greatest threat, played down the launch.
"Iran still has a long way to go as far as satellites are concerned and it deliberately exaggerates its air and space successes in order to dissuade Israel or the United States from attacking its nuclear sites," Yitzhak Ben Israel told public radio.
"It is clear that for years Iran has had Shihab-3 ballistic missiles which put Israel within its reach. But the threat posed by Iran comes from its nuclear programme and not from its satellites or ballistic missiles."
Initial state media reports in Iran said that the rocket had carried the nation's first home-built satellite Omid (Hope) but this was later denied by officials who said only a test satellite had gone up.
However, the defence minister said on Monday: "Iranian experts can put the national satellite into orbit in the not too distant future."
In February, Iran triggered international concern when it said it had sent a probe into space on the back of a rocket to prepare for a satellite launch, and announced the opening of its space station in a remote western desert.
At that time, officials had said the Omid satellite would be sent into space in May or June.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made Iran's scientific development one of the main themes of his presidency, asserting that the country has reached a peak of progress despite international sanctions and no longer needs to depend on foreign states for help.
However, Iran's claims about its military and technological capabilities are often greeted with scepticism by Western experts.
Reza Taghipour, the head of Iran's space agency, also unveiled plans on Monday for more satellites, including one to be built with and for Islamic countries, state television reported.
He said construction of the Besharat (Good News) satellite would begin in Iran once it had financing from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, adding that high costs were an obstacle to space development.
He also said Iran hoped to broadcast television programmes via its own satellite in the next three years and said seven universities were also working on their own small satellites.
Iran has pursued a space programme for several years, and in October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.