DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will launch a satellite on Sunday, a government minister said, as part of a fledgling program the United States says is a cover for ballistic missile development.
“The Zafar satellite will be placed in orbit today from Semnan at a speed of 7,400 kilometers,” Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said, according to the official IRIB news agency.
Iran carried out at least two failed satellite launches last year.
The United States says it is concerned that long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads. Tehran denies that satellite activity is a cover for missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.
President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions on Iran following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from an international accord designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Trump said the nuclear deal did not go far enough and did not include restrictions on Tehran’s missile program.
Tensions, already high over the nuclear issue, reached the highest level in decades between Iran and the United States after Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Iran retaliated with a missile attack against a US base in Iraq.
Once the satellite is in orbit, the first picture that it will transmit will be of Soleimani, minister Azari-Jahromi said on Sunday.
Iran launched its first satellite Omid (Hope) in 2009 and the Rasad (Observation) satellite was sent into orbit in June 2011. Tehran said in 2012 that it had successfully put its third domestically-made satellite Navid (Promise) into orbit.
Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Frances Kerry