Iran is feeling the national impact of a major space program failure, the death of a Rhesus research monkey during Iran’s first attempt to send a primate into space.
It is an Iranian national embarrassment given the pre launch whoopla that was whipped up by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who called the launch a major step toward sending Iranian astronauts into space by about 2020.
A close look at mission hardware raises questions about the amount of support and comfort given to the flight monkey for its space mission.
Images of the Rhesus monkey flight boxes (above) look like they were designed by a high school shop class rather than an aerospace organization sensitive to the physiological effects of launch and zero-g.
Two monkey mannequins are shown although only one such container and monkey were flown on the ill fated mission. There is no padding on the floor or walls for added warmth and skin protection from arm and leg movements in the cabin.
There is also no evidence of supplemental oxygen or pressurization, although they do have a diaper. The monkey’s feet appear bound by tape. It appears as if the monkey’s role is simply to ride it out, for better or for worse, as physiological data capture hardware is not evident.
International space analyst Charles P. Vick has been reading between the lines of what little information Iran has released.
“From their descriptions I think the rocket flew off the launch pad properly, but then something went wrong to prevent it from making the desired 75 mi. altitude,” said Vick. “One can imagine several scenarios, such as a catastrophic disassembly. “It must have been a gruesome scene at the crash site.”
The monkey project’s Kavoshgar-5 booster lifted off then malfunctioned somewhere along its planned trajectory to about 75 mi. altitude where the forward module holding the monkey and recovery parachute were to be released to experience about 20 min. of weightlessness as they began to fall back toward Earth. But more than a month of silence has followed since the planned liftoff time.
The launch took place sometime between Aug. 22 and Sept. 22. But Iran did not issue a release until mid October announcing that the flight was a failure – but little details were provided. The U. S. and Russia both experienced the loss of laboratory animals early in their space programs and learned the hard way that a delay in describing abnormal flight events leads experts to think they had something to hide.
In an AFP report, Iranian Deputy Science Minister Mohammad Mehdinejad-Nouri said that the rocket was launched during Shahrivar, which is an Iranian calendar month that runs from Aug. 23 to Sept. 22.
“However, the launch was not publicized as all of its anticipated objectives were not accomplished,” Vick said. “That’s another way of saying there is a, official Iranian government cover up about what when wrong.”
The Deputy Science Minister said the launch of a live animal into space was “a strategic priority,” and expressed hope that future launches would attain more of the objectives set.
On October 3, Iran indefinitely postponed plans to send other monkeys aloft until the cause of the failure is reviewed.
“One cannot give a set date for this project and as soon as our nation’s scientists announce the readiness (of the project) it will be announced,” said Hamid Fazeli, head of Iran’s Space Organization.
The Kavoshgar-5 is similar to the Safir booster used to orbit Iranian payloads, but in the monkey mission it was being used as a sounding rocket with what was supposed to be gentler ride to space than a high-g high velocity sounding rocket.
While the accident is a setback, Iran is forging ahead with the development of three progressively advanced reconnaissance spacecraft all planned for launch during the first half of 2012. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised the spacecraft at a “rollout” ceremony for the vehicles.
Advanced launch and satellite checkout procedures are underway on increasingly advanced reconnaissance payloads They are:
The Fajr (Dawn) radar imaging spacecraft:
Iran’s Electronics Industry (IEI) says it has delivered domestically-built Fajr radar satellite to the country’s Aerospace Industries Organization, adding that the device is ready to launch.
“This satellite is capable of staying in space for a year and a half and providing and transmitting pictures with a resolution of 500-1000 meters to stations on earth,” according to IEI Managing Director Ebrahim Mahmoudzadeh.
He said the design and quality of the solar cells used on the body of the satellite have increased the durability of the satellite to 1.5 years.
The national Fajr satellite weighs 50 kg. and will be placed in elliptical orbit of 250-400 km It has the specifications of more advanced operational radar, said the IEI official.
The IEI chief, however, provided little data on the spacecraft camera except to say that IEI has produced a 20-meter resolution camera which will be installed on another Iranian-made satellite, called Tolou (Rise).
“Fajr is also equipped with a domestically-made GPS navigation system which is seen as a new achievement,” he said. The prototype satellite has passed pre-flight tests and is ready to launch, the IEI chief added.
The satellite will be employed for testing systems and professional navigation in space while the pictures it transmits could be used in surveying and meteorological research work.
The Navid imaging satellite:
According to Mohammadsaeid Jabalameli, head of the Science and Technology University which built it , the 50 kg. Navid satellite can take pictures at lower 250 to 375 km altitudes.
Officials said the preliminary tests on the Navid satellite have been successful and the satellite was delivered to the launch center to be put into space by mid 2012.
The Zafar (Triumph) Imaging Satellite:
University officials unveiled yet another satellite, called Zafar (Triumph), whose design has been completed and is undergoing test procedures.
If the test results are successful, Zafar will be launched into space around mid 2012
Experts say the difference between Navid and Zafar is that the latter takes color pictures with higher resolutions.
Iran It is also working on booster and ballistic missile upgrades that raise concerns in the U. S., Europe, Israel and Saudi Arabia about Iran’s ability to develop longer range ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons.
The micro component and micro electronics experience gained in building satellites translates directly into the skills needed to build nuclear weapons small enough to form ballistic missile warheads, according to reports by the Pentagon and the Congressional Research Service.