Iran Sends Rocket With Satellites to Space, Remains Mum on Whether Launch Was Successful

Iranian officials announced Thursday the launch of a rocket into space that contained a satellite carrier holding three devices but did not confirm whether the objects reached the speed required to enter the Earth's orbit.

The announcement did not contain information about the date or time of the launch, or what devices were on the carrier.

The rocket was a Smiorgh, or "Phoenix" rocket, that took the three devices onboard 290 miles into the air, according to Ahmad Hosseini, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

"The performance of the space center and the performance of the satellite carrier was done properly," Hosseini was quoted as saying.

The launch may have failed, considering Hosseini or any other official is yet to publicly confirm if the mission worked as intended. State-associated journalists reported Hosseini quoting a speed for the rocket that would be insufficient in attempting to reach orbit, according to the Associated Press.

The launch and reported advances in the Iranian missile and space program come as negotiations continue to reinstate the Iran nuclear agreement that dissolved when former President Donald Trump took the U.S. out of the deal.

Negotiations have taken place in Vienna this week and are set to continue into the new year.

Iran, Space, Satellites, Rocket, Nuclear Deal
This photo released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry on Thursday shows the launching of Simorgh, or "Phoenix," rocket in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iran announced it launched a satellite carrier rocket bearing three devices into space, though it's unclear whether any of the objects entered orbit around the Earth. Iranian Defense Ministry via AP

Iran aired footage of the blastoff against the backdrop of negotiations in Vienna to restore Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers. An eight round had been underway this week and is to resume after New Year's holidays.

Previous launches have drawn rebukes from the United States. The U.S. State Department, Space Force and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to Associated Press requests for comment on Thursday's announcement from Iran.

Iran's civilian space program has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including fatal fires and a launchpad rocket explosion that drew the attention of many, including Trump.

Iranian state media recently offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches for the Islamic Republic's civilian space program. Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that successfully put a satellite into orbit last year. Hosseini described the launch announced Thursday as "initial," indicating more are on the way.

Television aired footage of the white rocket emblazoned with the words, "Simorgh satellite carrier" and the slogan "We can" shooting into the morning sky from Iran's Imam Khomeini Spaceport. A state TV reporter at a nearby desert site hailed the launch as "another achievement by Iranian scientists."

The blast-offs have raised concerns in Washington about whether the technology used to launch satellites could advance Iran's ballistic missile development. The United States says that such satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to steer clear of any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.

Announcing a rocket launch as diplomats struggle to restore Tehran's atomic accord keeps with Tehran's hard-line posture under President Ebrahim Raisi, a recently elected conservative cleric.

New Iranian demands in the nuclear talks have exasperated Western nations and heightened regional tensions as Tehran presses ahead with atomic advancements. Diplomats have repeatedly raised the alarm that time is running out to restore the accord.

From Vienna, Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told Iranian state TV that he hopes diplomats pursue "more serious work to lift sanctions" when nuclear talks resume next week. He described negotiations over the past week as "positive."

Washington, however, has thrown cold water on Tehran's upbeat ​assessments. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters earlier this week that "it's really too soon to tell whether Iran has returned with a more constructive approach to this round​."​

Iran has now abandoned all limitations under the agreement, and has ramped up uranium enrichment from under 4 percent purity to 60 percent—a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. International inspectors face challenges in monitoring Tehran's advances.

Satellite images seen by the Associated Press suggested a launch was imminent earlier this month. The images showed preparations at the spaceport in the desert plains of Iran's rural Semnan province, some 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of Tehran.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. But under Raisi, the government appears to have sharpened its focus on space. Iran's Supreme Council of Space has met for the first time in 11 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Iranian officials announced Thursday the launch of a Phoenix rocket into space that contained a satellite carrier holding three devices but did not confirm whether the objects reached the speed required to enter the Earth's orbit. Above, Iranians take pictures of the Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite rocket during celebrations in Tehran marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, on February 11, 2016. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images