Iran has now acknowledged for the first time that a rocket exploded at the nation’s Imam Khomeini Space Center last week. Commercially available satellite images taken of the site after the incident showed a black plume of smoke rising above what appeared to be the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei attributed the incident to a technical mishap, saying “this has been a technical matter and a technical error.”
The explosion came before the planned Nahid I satellite launch by Tehran, which the United States has criticized. The U.S. says Iran’s satellite launches violate a UN Security Council resolution calling on Tehran not to develop technology capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons and maintains that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
A satellite image of the site showed damaged vehicles around the launch pad, as well as damage done to the rocket’s launcher. There was also “National Product, National Power” written large in Farsi on the pad. Iran said that the rocket was lost, but the satellite survived the blast unscathed. Rabiei said, “The explosion happened at the launchpad and no satellite had yet been transferred to the launchpad. It happened at a test site, not at the launch site.”
The explosion was the third recent failure of a rocket at the space center. The launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites failed in January and February, respectively. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center, also in February, killed three researchers. The streak of bad luck led some to speculate that sabotage was occurring in the nation’s space program. Iran has been dismissive of the suggestion. Over the past decade, Iran has sent several satellites into orbit and launched a monkey into space in 2013.