- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

As Iran marks the 30th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, its regime finally has entered the Space Age with technology available in the West for more than 50 years.

American intelligence officials and private arms specialists said that a new satellite and the rocket that launched it on Tuesday were the equivalent of Sputnik-era technology, so named for the satellite launched on Oct. 4, 1957, that sparked the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Iranian satellite — named Omid, or Hope — was the same kind of low-altitude elliptical-orbit technology long surpassed by faster and more advanced equipment.

“The rocket is not that sophisticated,” David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank, told The Washington Times. “That Sputnik technology, a little metal ball that goes ‘beep beep beep,’ is not the same as a nuclear warhead or a telecommunications satellite. It’s harder to send heavier objects and more sophisticated objects into space or across a continent.”

Mr. Albright added, “This test tells us they have not yet mastered long-range, multistage rocket technology” of the kind needed to launch an advanced warhead.

A U.S. counter-proliferation official confirmed Mr. Albright’s analysis.

“The Iranians appear to have successfully launched a low-altitude-orbit satellite on Feb. 2,” the official told The Times. He spoke on condition that he not be named, citing the sensitivity of the information.

“What the Iranians intend to use this satellite for is unclear at this point,” he said. “At the same time, there are no alarm bells ringing because of this launch. This kind of satellite technology has been around for a long time, as early as 1957, with Sputnik.”

Publicly, the Obama administration expressed concern that there is an overlap between the technology used to launch satellites and that necessary for making advanced ballistic missiles.

Acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement: “Iran’s development of a space launch vehicle (SLV) capable of putting a satellite into orbit establishes the technical basis from which Iran could develop long-range ballistic missile systems. Many of the technological building blocks involved in SLVs are the same as those required to develop long-range ballistic missiles.”

Pentagon spokesman Geoffrey Morrell said, “It is certainly a reason for us to be concerned about Iran and its continued attempts to develop a ballistic missile program of increasingly long range.”

John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said, “It is still a significant event that they have launched a satellite; even primitive technology can kill you.”

Mr. Bolton, speaking by telephone from Tel Aviv, added that the launch was one step in a progression for Iran to develop missiles capable of hitting Europe and Israel.

“Putting a satellite into orbit is not the same as dropping a nuclear weapon on a city. The fact is they are proceeding on an element of their program. We should not be alarmist, but neither should we be blase,” he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who announced the space launch on Iranian radio, has in the past overplayed the progress of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, perhaps in part for domestic political effect.

Story Continues →