a defence industry source says. Reuters
TEHRAN - Iran will use a modified version of its Shahab-3 missile, which defence experts say can reach Israel or U.S. bases in the Gulf, to launch a test satellite before March 2005, a defence industry source says.
He said the missile would carry a 20 kg (44 lb) experimental satellite to an orbit of 250 km (155 miles) above the earth.
"It is just an experimental satellite which will send a simple signal," he said on Monday, adding that the project was called Safir-313. Safir is Persian for emissary.
This would be Iran's first launch of a test satellite into space. It announced in January that it wanted to be the first Islamic country to go into space and added that it was building a launchpad, without elaborating.
Iran last month carried out tests of what it described as an upgraded version of the Shahab-3 medium-range missile. Based on the North Korean Nodong-1 and modified with Russian technology, the Shahab-3 is thought to have a range of 810 miles (1,300 km), which would allow it to strike anywhere in Israel.
Military analysts say that countries often use their satellite launch programmes as inroads to weapons technology.
"There is a powerful motivation for emerging missile countries to branch into satellite launching," said Uzi Rubin, adviser to Israel's Defence Ministry on missile technology.
"Unlike ballistic missiles, regarded as adjunct to nuclear weapons and viewed with suspicion by the international community, there is no international norm against satellite launchers," he told Reuters in Jerusalem.
Iranian Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani said in August that Iran was working to improve the range and accuracy of the Shahab-3 in response to Israel's moves to boost its anti-missile capability.
Iran says its missile programme is purely for deterrent purposes. Tehran also denies U.S. and Israeli accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear warheads which could be delivered by the Shahab-3.
Washington says Iran's attempts to improve its missile capability were a threat to the region and U.S. interests.
The defence source said Iran planned to send another 170 kg satellite up to an orbit of 700 km by March 2005. This would be launched by a Russian rocket and be used for meteorology and cartography.