Pentagon Disputes Iran's Boast of Sending a Rocket Into Orbit

By Eliza Strickland | August 18, 2008 3:39 pm

Iran Safir rocketOn Sunday, the Iranian state television network showed impressive footage of a slender white rocket blasting off from a launch pad, leaving behind billows of smoke. Iranian officials say that the rocket, named Safir, or “ambassador,” successfully reached orbit, demonstrating the technological known-how to send up satellites. The rocket released equipment that beamed flight data back to ground control, said Reza Taghipoor, the head of Iran’s Space Agency, in a live television interview [AP].

Yet shortly after Iranian officials boasted of their fledgling space program, unnamed sources from the U.S. Defense Department began disputing those claims of a successful launch. “The Iranians did not successfully launch the rocket,” a senior U.S. defense official told CNN Monday. The two-stage rocket could have been capable of launching a satellite into space, but the U.S. intelligence assessment shows that the second stage “was erratic and out of control,” said the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the intelligence. The rocket “did not perform as designed,” the official said [CNN].

Iran’s rocket-building capacities are of urgent interest to the United States and its allies, because the rockets used to send satellites into space could also be used to deliver nuclear weapons. In light of the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. officials responded to this weekend’s attempted launch with dismay. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions. This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile programme are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations” [BBC News].

Ahmadinejad has made Iran’s scientific development one of the main themes of his presidency, asserting that the country has reached a peak of progress despite sanctions and no longer needs to depend on foreign states for help. “This satellite, the rocket and the launch station are entirely Iranian-built, achieved by particularly talented scientists and technicians,” Ahmadinejad told reporters in Turkey last week, announcing that the satellite would be launched soon [AFP]. Iranian officials have said they need satellites to monitor for natural disasters and improve telecommunications.

Image: Islamic Republic News Agency

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • BiBiJon

    Lets face it. If Iran claimed it had manufatured a toothpick, you would find somebody, somewhere, call it a hoax.

    Anyone interested in a reality check on Iran, please see

  • Dragutin Dimitrijevic

    Very true BiBiJon. The American and Israeli propaganda campaign to demonise Iran is comically inconsistent. On the one hand we’re told that the Iranians are building their own carbon-fibre centrifuges and they’re enriching uranium, both efforts being highly complex engineering achievements. They’re a year or two away from assembling a nuclear warhead we’re led to believe. That feat is an extraordinary technical challenge over and above merely enriching uranium. Beware, the Americans and Israelis tell us, those sneaky and mean ol’ Iranians are talented. Especially at building the same scary weapons that the Americans and Israelis already have.

    On the other hand the Americans report that those Iranian stumble-bums can’t even launch a rocket into low earth orbit and properly discharge a small test payload. Haw haw. Boy are those Iranians dumb and backward.

    So which is it? Talented and cunning super-duper engineers and scientists or dumb and backward wannabes, quasi-third worlders?

  • Matt Metcalf

    That’s a good point, except that the U.S. built (and used) nuclear weapons in 1945 and didn’t have the technical capability to reliably put something in orbit until more than 10 years later.

    Nobody is saying that the Iranians are dumb… just that they don’t have the technical know-how to reliably complete the extraordinarily complex task of launching something into orbit.

    I should point out, though, that SpaceX has had three attempts that have failed, and the Iranians have (apparently) had one. I don’t know of any rockets that have successfully reached orbit the first time they tried.

  • BiBiJon


    The point is the tone of the article. Typical of most articles, a mix of ridicule, envy, insult and disparagement. Not to mention articles, and comments that diagnose Iranians as suicidal, genocidal, etc.

    If people are that interested about Iran, do a bit of research. Start with

  • Kiumars

    There seems to be an orchestrated attempt to undermine Iran’s progress and achievements, we saw this again a few weeks ago when the western media (especially those owned by Murdock) claimed that Iran had faked the photo of launching a few other missiles; where Iran actually had only issued a video and no photos!
    There is no doubt that there are technical problems that Iran faces and that is why these tests are carried out and that is what these tests are all about. USA still has major technical problems with the Shuttle and bits and pieces fall off it every time it is launched!

    Iranians can do it and will do it and I am sure they will do it as well as anyone else does it (or maybe even better).

    By the way the video of the launch is on BBC website and YouTube!

  • BiBiJon

    A high ranking official who requested not to be named for reasons that includes ‘he may be talking out of his hat’, or that ‘he may be simply lying’, has stated that Eliza Strickland’s article is an example of good journalism.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar