TEHRAN (AFP) -Iran said on Sunday it had successfully launched its first rocket into space, at a time of mounting tension with the West over its nuclear programme.
“The first space rocket has been successfully launched into space,” a state television anchor announced, without disclosing its range or the date of the launch.
“The rocket was carrying material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defence,” Mohsen Bahrami, the head of Iran’s aerospace research centre, told state television.
He did not give further details on the nature of the cargo. State television has yet to broadcast pictures of the launch.
Iran’s claim of success in launching a space rocket appears to be the first major step towards its stated ambition of putting homemade satellites into space on the back of Iranian-made rockets.
Iran has for the past years been pressing ahead with a nascent space programme, which has already seen an Iranian Russian-made satellite put into orbit by a Russian rocket in October 2005.
That satellite, called Sina-1, was Iran’s first and so far only probe to be launched into space and was described by the Iranian press at the time as being for research and telecommunications purposes.
Iran has said it is planning the construction and launch of several more satellites over the next three years.
Officials were quick to emphasise that the rocket had been manufactured using Iran’s own resources, echoing similar statements about its nuclear programme.
“All the tests (leading up to the launch) have been carried out in the country’s industrial facilities in line with international regulations,” said Bahrami.
“The manufacture of the rocket and the cargo was achieved by experts at the centre of aerospace research and the engineering centre at the ministry of agricultural planning,” he added.
Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar said the US trade embargo imposed in the wake of the Islamic revolution in 1979 had spurred Iran to press ahead with developments in its space programme.
“The sanctions of the enemies in the area of aerospace have allowed us to to develop our aviation, space and electronics industries,” he said.
“We are working on constructing satellites and on rockets capable of launching a satellite into space.”
The Islamic republic has in recent weeks boasted of its scientists’ progress not just in nuclear energy but also in medicine, where it has announced the development of a new therapies for AIDS and spinal-cord disorder patients.
Iran has already announced the development of a plasma-thrusting engine to help guide satellites as part of its nascent space programme.
The announcement Iran has succeeded in launching its first rocket into space comes amid mounting tensions with the United States over its nuclear programme, which Washington alleges is cover for weapons development.
OPEC’s number two producer Iran denies the charges, saying its atomic drive is solely aimed at supply energy for a growing population.
US Vice President Dick Cheney reignited speculation of US military intervention in Iran when he said Washington favours a diplomatic approach to Tehran’s atomic programme but that “all options are still on the table.”