ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — An Iranian satellite launched by Russia lifted off from Kazakhstan early Tuesday and entered orbit amid controversy that Moscow could use it to improve its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.
A live broadcast from the Russian space agency Roscosmos showed the launch of the Soyuz-2.1b rocket carrying the Khayyam satellite from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome at the scheduled time of 0552 GMT.
Russian mission control confirmed its subsequent entry into orbit.
Iran, which has maintained ties with Moscow and refrained from criticizing the Ukraine invasion, has tried to deflect suspicions that Moscow might use Khayyam to spy on Ukraine.
Last week, The Washington Post quoted unnamed Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or more” to help its war efforts before allowing Iran to take control.
But Iran’s Space Agency said on Sunday that the Islamic Republic would control the Khayyam satellite “from day one.”
“No third country can access the information” sent by the satellite due to its “encrypted algorithm,” he said.
Khayyam was the name of the renowned Iranian scholar and poet. #Iran
Now this 600 kg satellite bears his name. It was launched into space this morning with the help of Russia. pic.twitter.com/5o6upUK2Gp
— Source 2 ???????????????? (@soureh_design2) August 9, 2022
Khayyam’s purpose is to “monitor the country’s borders,” improve agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, the space agency said.
In a pre-launch statement on Monday, ISA praised “the high reliability factor of the Soyuz launcher.”
“Due to the weight of the Khayyam satellite of more than half a ton and the very high success rate of the Soyuz launcher, the launch of the Khayyam satellite has been entrusted to Russia,” the statement on the space agency’s website noted.
As Moscow’s international isolation grows under the weight of Western sanctions on Ukraine, the Kremlin is seeking to steer Russia toward the Middle East, Asia and Africa and find new clients for the country’s embattled space program.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran last month, one of his few trips abroad since the invasion began.
‘Long term cooperation’
Khayyam, apparently named for the 11th-century Persian scholar Omar Khayyam, will not be the first Iranian satellite Russia has put into space. In 2005, Iran’s Sina-1 satellite was deployed from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.
Iran is currently negotiating with world powers, including Moscow, to salvage a 2015 deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The United States, which abandoned the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA under then-President Donald Trump in 2018, has accused Iran of effectively supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine while adopting a “veil of neutrality.”
During his meeting with Putin last month, Iran’s Khamenei called for “long-term cooperation” with Russia, and Tehran has refused to join international condemnation of Moscow’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor.
Iran insists that its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not violate the 2015 nuclear deal or any other international agreements.
Western governments are concerned that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.
Iran successfully launched its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.