Iran Again Fails to Put Satellite Into Orbit

Repeated failures with a communications satellite don’t halt an official’s assertions that the country is “UNSTOPPABLE!”

A rocket launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Semnan Province, Iran, in a satellite image.
A rocket launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Semnan Province, Iran, in a satellite image.Credit...Planet Labs Inc, Middlebury Institute of International Studies

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran tried but failed to put a satellite into orbit on Sunday, state television reported, the latest setback for work that the United States says helps Tehran advance its ballistic missile program.

The launch of a Simorgh rocket in Semnan Province, about 145 miles southeast of Tehran, sought to put a communications satellite into orbit. It failed because of low speed, Iranian state TV reported.

Still, a Defense Ministry spokesman, Ahmad Hosseini, portrayed the failure as a “remarkable” achievement for Iran’s space program. Previous launches of the Simorgh — or Phoenix — rocket also failed to put a satellite into orbit.

Iranian officials had been promoting the mission, and Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, head of the Communication and Information Technology Ministry, continued to do so on Sunday.

“But We’re UNSTOPPABLE! We have more Upcoming Great Iranian Satellites!” Mr. Jahromi wrote in English on Twitter in a post that included a satellite emoji. He later wrote in Persian that “sometimes life does not go the way we like it to go.”

Mr. Jahromi’s quick rise through Iran’s carefully managed political system is already generating speculation that he could be a candidate for the 2021 presidential campaign.

The launch had been planned amid celebrations of the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. For the occasion each February Iran routinely unveils technological achievements for its armed forces, its space program and its nuclear efforts.

Satellite images by Maxar Technologies, based in Colorado, showed the launch tower for the rocket bore massive images of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr. Jahromi has previously said that Iran spent just under two million euros, or about $2.2 million, to build the Zafar 1 communication satellite. Officials had planned for the satellite, whose name means “Victory,” to stay in orbit for 18 months.

Sunday’s failure came after two failed launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites last year, as well as a launchpad rocket explosion in August. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February 2019 also killed three researchers, the authorities said at the time.

The three failures in a row raised suspicions of outside interference in Iran’s program, something President Trump alluded to then by writing on Twitter that the United States “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.”

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.

Sunday’s attempt came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States since Mr. Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Since that move, in 2018, Iran has begun breaking terms of the deal limiting its enrichment of uranium.