Iran Set to Launch Large New Rocket, Repeat Fatal Monkey Mission

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad examines cutaway version of space monkey capsule like that to be used with backup monkey replacing the animal that was killed in 2011. Photo Credit: Fars

Iran is poised to begin a surge in space launch activity that will also include the first test of the large new space booster that could also eventually serve as a nuclear armed ballistic missile.

As many as 4 new spacecraft including a radar imaging satellite and two optical imaging spacecraft are to be launched as part of this surge, the Iranian Fars News Agency announced January 22.

In addition Iran is also planning a second attempt to launch a monkey 75 mi. into space after its first attempt in mid 2011 failed, killing the primate.

Design of the Simorgh booster (right two graphics) sharply resembles the North Korean No Dong (left). Photo Credit: Fars

In another important development, new images of a key Iranian rocket development site show the facility’s test stands and integration cells are designed for a much larger booster than the Iranian rockets currently in use.

This raises the implication that Iran is actively planning the development of  50% larger Iranian space booster that could be used for space missions,  or the development of  another Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of striking the U. S. with atomic weapons.

The U. S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)  has told Congress that Iran in fact may be capable of developing a 3,000 mi. range ICBM by 2015.  An Iranian missile with that range could target the U. S.

Four engine cluster in Simorgh generates 290,000 lb. thrust at liftoff. Photo Credit: Fars

The second attempt to launch a Rhesus monkey on a suborbital trajectory that would transit space for only  about 20 min is contemplated by Iran by March 20, the end of its calendar year.  That mission will be flown using a solid propellant artillery rocket reconfigured as a sounding rocket.

Hamid Fazeli, the Head of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) noted the national space monkey project would be carried out by using a 628 lb.  “new life capsule”. He said “the results of this project would make the country one step closer to sending a man into space.” Fazeli said that Iran has set a goal of launching a human into space by 2019.

His statement sounds lubricious given the enormous resources that it would take to develop a manned space program under the stiff sanctions and possibility of military action against Iranian nuclear facilities or forces trying to block the Strait of Hormuz.

Fazeli pointed out an initial life-capsule test version was launched into space last winter, but the new model is being designed and manufactured by scientists. He added that “scientists have been trying to solve its problems and” [improve its safety margins] during its Earth return phases.

Battered “life capsule” has been to space and back but the Iranians declined to say whether this specific unit carried the Rheas monkey killed in 2011. Photo Credit: Fars

An image of a previously returned “life capsule”  showed it to be in rather beat up condition, although Iran was not specific about whether the capsule shown was the one on which the first space monkey had been killed. Fazeli’s repeated mention of “scientists” may have been to chide engineers originally in charge of the hardware that failed.

A with previous Iranian space launch activity the U. S., Israel, France, England and other western governments are concerned that Iranian “civilian” space activity is often a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to provide a smokescreen for the test of  ballistic missile technology.

The first test flight of the  larger Simorgh booster is slated to fly its first mission early this year, possibly carrying the “Tolou” (sunrise) communications satellite.  The Iranians had hoped to launch it in 2011, but technical delays forced a delay to 2012.

Three of the satellites (center and right) planned for launch in this the surge are displayed by the Iranians. The large satellite at center will deploy an imaging radar, while two at far right have optical imaging capabilities. Photo Credit: Fars

The rocket is 89 ft long, and has a liftoff mass of 85 tons.  Its first stage is powered by four main engines, each generating up to 64,000 lb of thrust. It uses storable propellants meaning it can sit on the pad fueled for a longer period of time. This would enhance its ICBM properties.

At liftoff, the four engines will generate a total of 290,000 lb. of thrust. Simorgh is capable of putting a 130 lb. payload into a 310 mi. low Earth orbit. The rocket engine group used with the rocket essentially duplicates the engines used in the North Korean No-Dong rocket and collaboration between Iran and North Korea is a part of the project.

The same engine used in the first stage cluster, could be used in much larger rockets capable of  placing 1,500 lb. payloads in 620 mi. orbits.

There indeed is evidence that Iran is contemplating the development of a much larger rocket beyond the Simorgh.

Note how the cell is designed to support a much wider and taller booster than the Safir which is one of Iran’s standard launchers. Photo Credit: Fars

Iranian images of  facilities at the new Space Research and Test Center  near the town of Semnan  show facilities that are much larger than the Safir boosters undergoing processing in the images. The same facilities will be used for the Simorgh booster but , are still larger than that vehicle.

Indoor test cells are impressive but, the highlight of the facility is a massive outdoor test stand with a superstructure to hold booster stages in place during firing and a large flame trench to ensure proper vacuum conditions can be maintained by rocket nozzles. This test stand,  clearly visible in Digital Globe satellite imagery,  is an  Iranian asset that can be used for both space booster and ballistic missile development.

Digital Globe Satellite image shows the massive rocket static test stand at the Semnan facility. This stand is large enough to handle Iranian ICBM rocket engine tests and larger boosters than currently exist. Broader view (right) shows the isolated location of the facility. Photo Credit: Digital Globe

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