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Iran Launches Rocket, Opens Space Center

By Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press

A rocket takes off at from an unidentified location in Iran in this video grab from February 4, 2008. Iran launched a rocket on Monday designed to send its first homemade research satellite Omid (Hope) into orbit in the next year, state television said, a move likely to add to Western concerns about Tehran's nuclear plans.  REUTERS/IRIB via Reuters TV (IRAN)

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran launched a research rocket Monday and unveiled its first major space center, which will be used to launch research satellites, state-run television reported.

The report said the rocket was the first launched by Iran “into space.” But analysts have expressed doubts about similar technological achievements announced by the country in the past.

Iran launched its first domestically built rocket last February, which did not reach orbit level.

“The first Iranian rocket Explorer-1 was fired into space,” reported state TV, which showed live images of the event at the space center, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issuing the launch order. “With the launch, Iran has joined the world’s top 11 countries possessing space technology to build satellites, and launch rockets into space.”

The report did not specify the altitude reached by the research rocket. Space is considered to begin at 60 miles above ground. Ham radio satellites — the lowest flying satellites — orbit between 100-300 miles, while communication, weather and global-positioning satellites fly between 250-12,000 miles up.

Some Western experts also have raised the possibility that Iran’s space program may be a cover to more fully develop its military ballistic missiles, a prospect many find troubling at a time when the U.S. and others worry Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Before the launch, Ahmadinejad opened the space center, which includes an underground control station and space launch pad, according to state TV.


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