Iran says 'space rocket' was of sub-orbital range and for research purposes

The Iranian rocket that went into space was actually of suborbital range and was launched for educational and research purposes, an Iranian space official has been reported as saying.

The deputy head of Iran's Space Research Center, Ali Akbar Golrou, was quoted on state television's Web site as saying the rocket soars no higher than 150 kilometers (93 miles) into the atmosphere.

"It does not go into orbit and it comes back to the earth by parachute," Golrou said Sunday, when Iran launched the rocket.

State television had quoted the head of the center, Mohsen Bahrami, as describing the missile as a "space rocket" on Sunday. But Golrou indicated that its role was less than what is generally understood by a space rocket.

"The launch of the rocket was aimed at improving science and research for university students," Golrou said on the Web site.

However, the rocket may be related to Iran's efforts to send commercial satellites into orbit.

In 2005 Iran launched its first such satellite in a joint project with Russia, which appears to be the main partner in transferring space technology to Iran. The country signed a US$132 million (euro100.5 million) deal with a Russian firm in 2005 to build and launch another telecommunications satellite.

Also in 2005, Iran said its next goal would be to launch a satellite on an indigenous rocket. Iranian officials have indicated the country is developing a Shahab-4 missile to do just that, reports AP.

Science and Technology Minister Mohammad Soleimani said Iran would speed up its space program, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Investment in space is very serious and requires time, but we are trying to speed this up," IRNA quoted Soleimani as saying.

Iran hopes to launch four more satellites by 2010, the government has said, to increase the number of land and mobile telephone lines to 80 million from 22 million. It also hopes to expand its satellite capabilities to increase Internet users to 35 million from 5.5 million in the next five years.

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