A Russian-launched Iranian satellite launched from Kazakhstan early Tuesday and went into orbit amid controversy that Moscow could use it to improve its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
A live feed from Russia’s Roscosmos space agency showed the launch of the Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying the Khayyam satellite from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome at the scheduled time of 0552 GMT.
Russian mission control confirmed the subsequent entry into orbit.
Iran, which maintains ties with Moscow and is holding back criticism of the invasion of Ukraine, has tried to ward off suspicions that Moscow may be using Khayyam to spy on Ukraine.
Last week, the US newspaper The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or more” to aid its war effort before allowing Iran to take control.
But Iran’s space agency said Sunday that the Islamic Republic will control the Khayyam satellite “from day one.”
“No third country can access the information” that the satellite sends due to its “encrypted algorithm,” it said.
The purpose of Khayyam is to “monitor the country’s borders,” increase agricultural productivity, and monitor water resources and natural disasters, the space agency said.
In a pre-launch statement Monday, ISA praised “the high reliability factor of the Soyuz launch vehicle.”
“Due to the weight of the Khayyam satellite of more than half a ton and the very high success rate of the Soyuz launch vehicle, the launch of the Khayyam satellite has been entrusted to Russia,” the statement read on the space agency’s website.
As Moscow’s international isolation grows under the weight of Western sanctions on Ukraine, the Kremlin is trying to steer Russia into the Middle East, Asia and Africa, and find new clients for the country’s struggling space program.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran last month in one of his few trips abroad since the invasion began.
– ‘Long-term cooperation’ –
Khayyam, apparently named after 11th-century Persian polymath Omar Khayyam, will not be the first Iranian satellite Russia has sent into space — in 2005, Iran’s Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
Iran is currently negotiating with world powers, including Moscow, to salvage a 2015 deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The United States, which withdrew from the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, under then-President Donald Trump in 2018, has accused Iran of effectively supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine while adopting a “veil of neutrality.”
During his meeting with Putin last month, Iran’s Khamenei called for “long-term cooperation” with Russia, and Tehran has refused to join international condemnation of Moscow’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor.
Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only and does not violate the 2015 nuclear deal or other international agreements.
Western governments fear that satellite launch systems contain technology interchangeable with that used in ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.
Iran successfully launched its first military satellite in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.
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