Iran on Tuesday conducted one of at least two satellite launches it planned despite criticism from the United States, but the satellite failed to reach orbit, an official said.
The rocket carrying the Payam satellite failed to reach the “necessary speed” in the third stage of its launch, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi told Iranian state media.
Jahromi said the rocket had successfully passed its first and second stages before developing problems in the third. He did not elaborate on what caused the rocket failure, but promised that Iranian scientists would continue their work.
Tuesday’s launch took place at Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan province, a facility under the control of the country’s Defense Ministry, Jahromi said. Satellite images published last week and first reported by CNN showed activity at the launch site. Given the facility’s launching corridor, the satellite likely fell in the Indian Ocean.
Iran has said it plans to send two satellites, Payam and Doosti, into orbit. Payam means “message” in Farsi, while doosti means “friendship.”
It’s unclear how the failure of the Payam will affect the launch timing for the Doosti. Jahromi wrote on Twitter that “Doosti is waiting for orbit,” without elaborating.
Iranian state media aired footage of its reporter narrating the launch of the Simorgh rocket, shouting over its roar that it sent “a message of the pride, self-confidence and willpower of Iranian youth to the world!”
The footage shows the rocket becoming just a pinpoint of light in the darkened sky and not the moment of its failure. Jahromi’s comments that the problem developed in the launch’s third stage suggest something went wrong after the rocket pushed the satellite out of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Simorgh, meaning “phoenix” in Farsi, has been used in previous satellite launches. It is larger than an earlier model known as the Safir, or “ambassador,” that Iran previously used to launch satellites.
Iran usually displays space achievements in February during the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution while Iran is facing increasing pressure from the U.S. under the administration of President Donald Trump.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran’s plans for sending satellites into orbit demonstrate the country’s defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promptly slammed Iran over the launch, accusing Tehran of lying and alleging that the “innocent satellite” was actually “the first stage of an intercontinental missile” Iran is developing in violation of international agreements.
Iran insists the launches do not violate the resolution.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The U.S. and its allies worry the same satellite-launching technology could be used to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons. A 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers limited its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
However, Trump pulled America out of the deal in May. While United Nations inspectors say Iran has honored the deal up to this point, it has threatened to resume higher enrichment.
Ahmad Motamedi, the chancellor of Tehran Amirkabir University of Technology, which designed the satellite, told the semi-official Mehr news agency that Jahromi already has ordered them to design another satellite.
“Now, we have earned plenty of experience and we will be able to make a new satellite quicker,” he said.