- Associated Press - Sunday, June 9, 2013

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran said Sunday that it has set up its first space tracking center to monitor objects passing in orbit overhead, the breakthrough claimed by the Islamic Republic in its space program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who inaugurated the facility near the town of Delijan, some 125 miles south of Tehran, said the center will help the country to manage “activities of satellites” but was also capable of monitoring “very remote space,” according to the official IRNA press agency.

Iran says it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation, improve telecommunications and expand military surveillance in the region. The U.S. and its allies worry that the same technology could also be used to develop long-range missiles.

Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, the defense minister, said that the center was for Iran‘s space-related security but that Tehran also would share the acquired data with other countries, IRNA reported.

Iran frequently announces technological breakthroughs that cannot be independently verified. It long has pursued space ambitions aimed at putting its own satellite into orbit as well as a manned space flight.

“The base is aimed at securing the country’s space facilities and monitoring space objects, especially satellites that pass overhead,” Gen. Vahidi was quoted as saying.

The country has nine command and control ground stations for its space program, including one in Syria, the country’s main Arab regional ally. The rest are located mainly in the central and southern parts of the country.

Gen. Vahidi said the Delijan center uses radar, electro-optic and radio tracking.

In one of its most recent high-profile space announcements, Iran said in February that it had sent a monkey into space.