US-Iran tensions rise after IRGC launches first military satellite
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Wednesday announced the country's first ever successful launch of a military satellite into orbit, following months of failed attempts, in a surprise move Washington will regard as mounting evidence of Tehran’s nuclear capability.
"Iran's first military satellite, Noor, was launched this morning from the central desert of Iran. The launch was successful, and the satellite reached orbit," state TV said.
According the IRGC’s Sepahnews website, the satellite reached an orbit of 425 kilometers (264 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
A new three-staged satellite carrier, Ghased, sent Noor into orbit from the Markazi Desert, a huge expanse in Iran’s central plateau, sing a "combination of solid and liquid fuels", the website added.
One photograph circulating on social media, whose authenticity cannot be verified, purports to show a section of the carrier with a Quranic verse which reads "Exlalted is He who has subjected this vehicle to us, which we could not have otherwise subdued".
The scriptural quote is a traditional Islamic invocation recited by travellers before starting a journey.
As observers await a formal response from the US State Department, the latest development represents a remarkable turnaround in Iran’s fortunes, coming after months of failed attempts to launch satellites.
Days before the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in February, attempts to set the Zafar 1 communication satellite into orbit proved futile, with US Secretary of State seeing move as a clear indicator of Tehran's plans to expand to expand its missile programme and vowing to ramp up its policy of "maximum pressure" on the regime.
Last year, the country experienced two failed launched, Payam and Dosti, as well as a fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Centre in August, which resulted in the deaths of three researchers, according to authorities.
The failures raised suspicion of foreign meddling in Iran's programme, something President Donald Trump subtly insinuated when he said that the US "was not involved in the catastrophic accident".
After the latter withdrew his country from the agreement, Iran has on multiple ocassions broken limitations stipulated by a 2015 international denuclearisation deal.
Iran denies any intentions of acquiring nuclear weapons, claiming its aerospace activities to be peaceful and operating in full compliance with a UN Security Council resolution.
Wednesday's launch comes at a time of acutely heightened tensions with the US, months after the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad.
On Sunday, Iran's military confirmed it had experienced an encounter with US warships in the Persian Gulf last week. The Guard alleged without evidence that the US had started the incident.
Agencies contributed to this report.