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Iran’s Space Plans


Science & Technology Budget Three Year Fiscal Planning Cycle

Iran's science and technology budget is based on a three year fiscal planning cycle. Iran planned to launch two more research and development “Safir” boosters into space to finish its development before attempting to launch the Omid [Hope] scientific satellite in the summer of 2008, according to its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The defense minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said in a speech on February 4, 2008 during the inauguration of the new Iranian Space launch Center located in Semnan province. The space industry infrastructure located in the the Zelzal (earthquake), Shahid Hemmat Industrial group R&D missile & space industry infrastructure near Hamasin a suburb of Tehran in the Tehran province.

He indicated that the Omid [Hope] satellite would be launched during the next Khordad-87 between May 21 and June 22, 2008 or during the following Khordad during the year 2008 which started March 20, 2008 for the Iranian Islamic calendar. Completing the ten year research and development Omid [Hope] satellite project with its successful orbiting in 2008 was mandated to be completed before March 20, 2009. It was to be placed in a high inclination orbit (perhaps 62-64 degrees) with a 650 kilometer circular obit altitude passing over Iran six times daily.

In fact, Omid, a small communications satellite, was launched by Iran on a Safir 2 rocket on 02 February 2009 at 18:34 UT. The box shaped satellite had many external antennas’ on its outer surfaces that are covered with a thermal insulation blanket. There were no obvious solar arrays on the outer shell indicating battery powered a short life satellite. It contained many black box instruments giving it a mass in the 40-100 kilogram range as expected.

?Russia and Iran reportedly signed a secret deal on wide cooperation in space exploration, ranging from training Iranian cosmonauts in Russia to possible production of Earth observation and telecommunication satellites for Iran. The alleged deal was boosted by the West's sanctions targeting Russia in retaliation for its position on the Ukrainian crisis, Russian newspaper Izvestia reported in May 2014.

“A protocol on cooperation was signed on April 10 in Tehran after the fifth session of a Russian-Iranian work group on space cooperation,” the newspaper cites a source in Roscosmos, Russia's national space agency.

The satellite part of the agreement is of greatest interest for Tehran. Russia pledged to provide sample images of earth gathered by its Resurs-DK and Resurs-P satellites, which allow taking photos with resolution up to 70 cm per pixel, Izvestia said citing the text of the protocol it obtained. Iranians plan to build domestic communication stations capable of receiving information from the Russian constellation of satellites.

“Russia has assured the Iranian side that there is no insurmountable obstacle to the delivery of receiver stations to get satellite information from the Russian earth observation satellites to communication centers located in foreign nations,” the protocol reportedly says. Moscow may further create and launch reconnaissance satellites under a contract with Iran. Another contract may be negotiated with Iran for a telecommunication satellite, which would be launched to a Geo-synchronous orbit by Russia.

Finally, Russia may provide its facilities and expertise to help Iran with its manned space exploration program. “The Iranian side is preparing a request for training of cosmonauts, to which the Russian side will respond with an offer in a matter of a month,” the document reportedly said.

Ironically, if Russia did train Iranians to go to space, it would be done at the same site where NASA astronauts are trained before taking a trip to the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the newspaper notes. Putting Iranians and Americans with access to sensitive information in the same room could be a security challenge.

The space deal came just as the US decided to downgrade its relations with Russia in all spheres, including space exploration as part of its wider sanction effort. For instance, now Russian space companies cannot buy American electronic components, which were previously used in some Russian satellites. Iran getting access to earth observation satellites, which have both civilian and military applications, is bound to be opposed by Israel and Saudi Arabia, both regional opponents of Iran and close allies of the US.

The prospect of Russian-Iranian space cooperation may be used by Moscow as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the US, believes space expert Ivan Moiseev. “In early 1990s we agreed not to sell to India rocket technologies. We made an engine for them instead, trained their specialists. The Americans in return allowed their satellites to be launched from our cosmodromes. Soon Proton rockets became one of world's most used vehicles,” he told the newspaper.

Dmitry Paison, science director at Skolkovo's space cluster, said the deal as it is does not pose a significant threat to American interests. “In the protocol signed with the Iranian space agency I don't see any critical technology transfers. High-energy engines could be critical. Or atmosphere re-entry technologies. If those technologies were at the table, cooperation with Iran would be much more provocative,” he explained.

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