Before dawn on Feb. 3 Iran launched its new “Navid” imaging spacecraft into orbit using a Safir booster that can easily be converted into a Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM). Israeli intelligence, the U.S. Strategic Command and CIA analysts are performing assessments of the rocket and satellite.
To provide a feel for what a Safir launch is like, an earlier daylight launch of an identical Safir in 2011 carrying the Rasad satellite is documented from different angles in the video above.
The Navid liftoff came in darkness at 5:34 a.m. GMT as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and launch controllers chanted Islamic prayers during the last minutes of the countdown.
According to one Iranian source, the 110 lb. spacecraft has 400 meter imaging resolution. Two other Iranian sources, however, say it carries “high resolution” imaging capability.
The launch comes at a time of high tension over Iranian nuclear capabilities. The U. S. and Israeli intelligence assessments of the satellite will determine its threat, if any, to revealing Israeli preparations for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear weapon’s capabilities. The intelligence community may be imaging the Navid from the ground or from a reconnaissance satellite using top secret “Sat Squared” techniques developed decades ago.
New ambitious and relatively complex Iranian launch activity, all of it involving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is coming at exactly the same time that Israel says it may strike Iran to destroy its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. The Iranian activity to come between now and May Includes two more launches, one carrying a more advanced imaging spacecraft and another using a much more powerful ballistic missile designed by North Korea, now going into Iranian service. The timing of the Iranian activities seems bizarre in the face of a very real threat of war with Israel at the exact same time.
Israel and the U. S. are prepared to alert their forces to be ready to move aircraft under cover to prepare for every potential overflight of the satellite, to prevent hardware sitting out in the open from providing Iran with weapons and tactics information in case the Navid does have higher resolution than 400 meters (about 1,332 ft.)
The spacecraft was launched into a 250 x 370 mi. orbit inclined 55 deg. to the equator. That puts the Middle East just north of center in the satellite’s ground track.
The spacecraft was designed and built at the Sharif University of Technology.
The Iranian News Agency noted the spacecraft will also help spot weather patterns, but an Iranian General was more specific, especially about the spacecraft’s ground stations in Iran.
The Safir launcher used for the flight has flown more often in its single stage IRBM mode with a broad array of reentry vehicles, some of them nuclear capable, say sources in Washington. Those vehicles are generally shorter than the space launch version that has a second stage. But there is no reason not to use the two stage version for extremely long range attack, even against the U. S.
Ties between Iran and North Korea are becoming increasingly visible in the missile and space launch field. Oil and gas rich Iran has plenty of cash it can funnel underground to the cash starved North.