Update on Possible Iranian Simorgh Rocket Launch

February 22, 2016 | 6:05 pm
Laura Grego
Research Director, Senior Scientist

A few days ago, we posted an overview of a possible upcoming Iranian satellite launch, which pointed to launch windows being held open at the Imam Khomeini Space Launch Center. Last week’s launch windows (which were signaled by NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen)) expired, but new ones were issued yesterday for two areas.

The first is OID 51, which is around Imam Khomeini Space Center and the launch pad used for the previous Safir launches. The second is for OID 90, which covers a southeasterly path from this launch complex—the direction a launch would take place (see Table 1). The crew at Arms Control Wonk created a very helpful google map of these zones here.

Iran OIDs

Table 1.

The rocket is reported to be on the launch pad, so it’s possible we’ll see a launch this week. I really don’t know why the NOTAM dates don’t coincide.

If the launch happens, it may very well not be putting a real satellite in orbit, though. Our colleague Brett Cox took a look at this interview with Manouchehr Manteghi, who is identified variously as the head of Iran’s National Space Center, the managing director of Iran Aviation Industries Organization, and Deputy Defense Minister. Manteghi says the Tolou satellite would not be launched until late August, but that there will be a test launch of the Simorgh before that, within two months of the interview (which was posted February 2.)

Not carrying a satellite on the first launch attempt of a new rocket sounds sensible, but the lack of a satellite is likely to make the launch look yet more problematic with respect to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, Annex B which states:

Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.

While the Simorgh appears to be designed as a satellite launcher, not a ballistic missile, and it appears incapable of delivering a nuclear weapon over long ranges, it does appear to use ballistic missile-relevant technology.

In the past, the U.N. Panel of Experts that was convened around the Security Council sanctions determined, though not unanimously, that the launch of the Rasad satellite in 2011 violated Resolution 1929, which states that “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.

Manteghi also said the “Imam Khomeini Launch Pad” would be inaugurated with this first launch, which may mean this will be the first launch from the new launch pad, which is reported to be capable of supporting launches of larger rockets. NTI has a great overview of the complex here.