TEHRAN: Iran has launched a sub-orbital rocket for scientific research, not a missile capable of reaching space as earlier reported, an aerospace official told an Iranian news agency on 25 February 2007.
Ali Akbar Golrou, the executive deputy of Iran’s aerospace research centre, told Fars News Agency the rocket would not stay in orbit but could rise to about 150 km (94 miles) into atmosphere before falling to earth by parachute.
Iranian state television’s website had earlier quoted the head of the aerospace research centre, Mohsen Bahrami, as saying Iran had fired a missile able to reach space.
Iranian advances in building missiles capable of reaching space are watched closely by the West because the same technology could be used to build intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“What was announced by the head of the research centre was the news of launching this sounding rocket,” Golrou said, denying the earlier report.
So-called “sounding rockets” are often used to probe atmospheric conditions between 45 km and 160 km above the earth, between the maximum altitude of weather balloons and the minimum altitude of orbiting satellites.
Earlier defence minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar had said on Saturday in comments published by the daily Etemad-e Melli that Iran was planning to build a satellite and launcher.
“Building a satellite and satellite launcher, as well as (previously) launching the first Iranian satellite called Sina with Russian cooperation, and becoming a member of the space club, are part of the Defence Ministry’s plans,” he said.
Iran launched its first satellite, Sina-1, into orbit from a Russian rocket in 2005 and has said it planned to modify its Shahab-3 missile, which Iran says has a range of about 2,000 km (1,250 miles), to launch satellites.
Iran has already announced the development of a plasma-thrusting engine to help guide satellites as part of its nascent space programme.
The Islamic republic has in recent weeks boasted of its scientists’ progress not just in nuclear energy but also in medicine, where it has announced the development of new therapies for AIDS and spinal-cord disorder patients.