Iran has confirmed that it plans to launch a new scientific observation satellite in the "coming days," the head of the country's national space agency said in an interview with AFP.
Morteza Barari on February 1 did not give a specific date for the launch of the Zafar (“Victory” in Persian) satellite, but he said the 113-kilogram satellite will be launched by a Simorgh rocket 530 kilometers above the Earth, and that it will make 15 orbits a day.
His remarks came five days after satellite images suggested that Iran was preparing to launch a satellite into space after three recent failed rocket launches.
Iran’s telecommunications minister tweeted last month that two satellites, which completed their tests were sent to a space facility January 19, to soon start their launch process.
Some Western leaders, including those in the United States, have complained that Iran is using technology involved in the launch of satellites that could also be used to develop ballistic missiles.
Barari told AFP that Iran advocated for the "peaceful use of outer space. All our activities in the domain of outer space are transparent."
The preparations for a rocket launch follow two failed launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites in January and February last year and a launch-pad rocket explosion in August.
The U.S. pullout from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers last year and its reimposition of sanctions against the country has heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The United States has placed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, while Iran has gradually reduced its commitments under the deal.
Barari, who is chief of the Iranian Space Agency, said manufacturing of the Zafar satellite "began three years ago with the participation of 80 Iranian scientists," adding that it was designed to remain operational for "more than 18 months."
He said the primary mission will be to collect imagery to study earthquakes, prevent natural disasters, and develop agricultural resources.
"It will be a new step for our country," Barari said, adding that Iran previously had been able to put a satellite into orbit 250 kilometers above the Earth.
The agency hopes to construct five more satellites by March 2021, Barari added.
In January 2019, Tehran acknowledged that its Payam satellite -- which it said was designed to collect environmental data -- had failed to reach orbit.
Washington called the launch a "provocation" and a violation of a 2015 UN Security Council resolution that had endorsed the international accord on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
Iran’s last attempt to launch a satellite was on August 29, 2019 but the rocket exploded on the launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan Province.
Less than a week after the explosion, on September 3, Washington imposed sanctions on Iran's space agency (ISA) for the first time, accusing it of developing ballistic missiles under the cover of a civilian program.
Tehran has insisted its space program is solely for non-military purposes. However, the program is directly under the control of Iran's defense ministry.