- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran planned to launch a “more sophisticated” satellite into orbit, another potential step forward for the country’s space program that have raised concerns in the West.

Iran’s official news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying the launch would take place despite concerns over the earlier launch of Iran’s first domestically made satellite in February.

“Iran plans to launch a … more sophisticated … satellite into space,” he said during a meeting with a group of Iranian expatriates. He did not say when the launch would be.

Ahmadinejad said a rocket with a range of some 450 to 950 miles (700 to 1500 kilometers) would carry the satellite to a higher altitude in space than its predecessor.

Being able to send satellites further into space would indicate the increasing sophistication of Iran’s rocket program _ a source of worry for some Western countries which suspect the Islamic republic of developing nuclear weapons.

Iran rejects the concerns saying its space technology and nuclear program are all being developed for peaceful purposes.

The first domestically made Iranian satellite called Hope, or Omid in Farsi, ended its mission in late March after some 40 days in orbit, about 155 to 310 miles (250 to 500 kilometers) above Earth.

Iran has said it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve its telecommunications. Iranian officials also point to America’s use of satellites to monitor Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar abilities for their security.

In 2005, Iran launched its first commercial satellite on a Russian rocket in a joint project with Moscow, which is a partner in transferring space technology to Iran. That same year, the government said it had allocated $500 million for space projects in the next five years.

Iran, which plans to launch three more satellites by 2010, also says it plans to put a man into orbit within 10 years.

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