Iran seeks to boost space technology

Iran's space agency is trying to snap up technology from abroad as fast as possible for its satellite program, fearing the West will seek to restrict it as it has imposed intensive limitations over the country's nuclear program.

The drive is part of Iran's major ambitions in space, looking to show off its technological abilities, monitor its neighborhood - where the United States has hundreds of thousands of troops - and establish itself as a regional superpower.

Iran says it wants satellites to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve its telecommunications infrastructure.

"We have not been subject to broad restrictions in space technology yet. But that doesn't mean that space program is less important than the nuclear program," said space official Mohammad Reza Movaseghinia.

"The moment they feel Iran has made a breakthrough, they will impose restrictions more than those they have imposed on Iran's nuclear program," he added.

Iran joined the space club last month after it launched Sina-1, its first small satellite, into space aboard a Russian rocket.

Sina was Russian-built, but Iran is going a step forward with its second satellite, the Mesbah, which is Iranian-built, with help from the Italian company Carlo Gavazzi Space. Mesbah is due to be launched from a Russian platform in about two months.

The satellites give Iran a limited space reconnaissance capability over the entire Middle East.

Iran's next step will be the launch of a satellite on an indigenous rocket. Iranian officials have said the country has been developing a Shahab-4 missile that will be used to launch a satellite into space.

Iran has already upgraded its Shahab-3 missile, which now has a range of more than 2,000 kilometers. Authorities have not given details on when the Shahab-4 will be ready.

"We have to move quickly and achieve our goals in space otherwise we will face political, economic and security threats," Movaseghinia said.

Space agency officials have not given details on what technology or expertise they need from abroad, but they have been racing to learn as much as they can. Under its 20-year plan, Iran aims to become a technological powerhouse of western Asia and a regional superpower by 2025.

Iran is now the world's 43rd country owning a satellite, but the government aims higher.

"We have to build our own satellites, our own launchers. We need to be one of eight top countries mastering space technology," said Ahmad Talebzadeh, the head of the Iranian Space Agency.

But the program has raised concerns, particularly in Israel, over use of technology in Iran's ballistic missile program, the AP reports.


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