Iran sends first home-built satellite into orbit

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran said on Tuesday it has launched its first home-built satellite into orbit, in a move likely to further alarm an international community already at odds with Tehran over its nuclear drive.

"Dear Iranians, your children have put the first indigenous satellite into orbit," a jubilant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on state television after a launch coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

"With this launch the Islamic Republic of Iran has officially achieved a presence in space."

Iran's Omid (Hope) satellite was sent into space on Monday evening carried by the home-built Safir-2 space rocket, local news agencies reported.

The launch -- which coincides with the anniversary of the 1979 revolution which toppled the Western-backed shah -- comes with Iran still defiantly refusing UN Security Council demands to freeze sensitive nuclear work.

The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch a space rocket could be diverted into development of long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Iran vehemently denies the charges, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes and that it has the right to the technology already in the hands of many other nations including its archfoe the United States.

Ahmadinejad said the satellite carried a message of "peace and brotherhood" to the world and dismissed suggestions that Iran's space programme had military goals, saying: "The world rejects such old talk."

"We have a divine view of technology unlike the dominating powers of the world who have Satanic views," he said.

In Addis Ababa, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the satellite would enable Tehran to receive "environmental data," adding that "the technological capacity of Iran is meant to meet the needs of the country ...

"Iran's satellite activities are solely meant for peace and our military capacity is meant for defensive purposes," he said on the sidelines of an African Union summit.

Ahmadinejad has made scientific development one of the main themes of his presidency, asserting that Iran has reached a peak of progress despite international sanctions and no longer needs help from foreign states.

"On the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution and with the order of the president, the national Omid satellite was launched," the Fars news agency declared.

"This is the first satellite launched in the history of our nation and it was carried by the Safir-2 satellite carrier."

The state news agency IRNA said the satellite would take orbital measurements and would circle the Earth 15 times every 24 hours.

The launch comes just a day before senior diplomats from six world powers are due to meet in Germany to discuss the Iranian nuclear standoff, with Tehran still defying calls for a freeze on uranium enrichment.

New US President Barack Obama said last month shortly after taking office that he was willing to extend the hand of diplomacy to Iran, after 30 years of severed diplomatic relations.

Iran sent its first Safir-2 into space in August. The rocket is about 22 metres (72 feet) long, with a diameter of 1.25 metres (a little over four feet) and weighs more than 26 tonnes.

Iran's most powerful military missile, the Shahab-3, has a diameter of 1.30 metres and measures 17 metres in length. It has a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) -- putting archfoe Israel and US forces in the region within reach.

Last year Iran triggered concern in the West when it said it had sent a probe into space on the back of a rocket to prepare for a satellite launch, and announced the opening of its space station in a remote western desert.

The launch of the probe, Kavoshgar (Explorer), was also timed during the anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Iran has pursued a space programme for several years, and in October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

Reza Taghipour, head of the Iranian space agency, said Iran would launch another satellite carrier by the end of the Iranian year on March 20, Fars said.

Source: AFP