The IRGC aerospace command takes credit for the achievement and says that it builds on legacies dating back to 1988.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN – JERUSALEM POST – MAY 6, 2020 18:30
How did Iran’s Missile Corps succeed in create a three-stage rocket called Qased or “messenger” that shot a military satellite into orbit in April? That is the question that both US policymakers, governments in the Middle East and Iran’s own media want to know. A special report at Iran’s Tasnim news included a 3,000 word discussion about how Iran’s missile and rocketry experts put the satellite into orbit and what it means for Iran’s long-range missile program.
The Iranian decision to launch the Noor satellite into orbit on April 22 has led to major concerns in Washington and it has been slammed by Israel and the US. That the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerosapce Force was behind the launch leads to questions about the real reason for it: Was it to illustrate increasing ballistic missile capabilities? Iran says the military satellite will be used for surveillance and military communications. Iran unveiled new drones recently and it is clear that Iran wants to use satellites for targeting or reconnaissance capabilities to assist its missiles, drones and others forces. Iran has suffered setbacks recently in Syria, so the rocket program is important.
We now know that there are concerns from the Gulf to the US that Iran’s launch capabilities for the satellite can be a security concern because they can be used for other military needs. Iran used ballistic missiles to target US forces in Iraq in January. A review of the Tasnim report on the missile program reveals the following details.
Iran used the Qased satellite launcher to put the satellite into a 425-kilometer orbit. This is the first three-stage rocket Iran has built. The IRGC aerospace command takes credit for the achievement and says that it builds on legacies dating back to 1988.
Iran says that the three-stage rocket has a first stage that is liquid fuel. Iran has both liquid and solid fuel programs for its missiles. For instance in March 2020 Iran showed off a solid-fuel rocket motor for its Ra’ad missile. It already had showcased solid fueled rockets back in 2005 when Ali Shamkhani, then minister of defense, showed off the technology. It used it for the Zelzal rockets. Iran’s Sejjil line of rockets are supposed to be solid-fueled, while its more widespread Shahad rockets are liquid fueled. Reports indicate the first stage of Iran’s current launch was a Ghadr-missile that is liquid-fueled. The second stage of the April launch was solid-fueled and the third liquid.
The IRGC says this represents a new propulsion system. Iran says that it previously used the Ghadr missiles to reduce costs and reduce the need for new research. With a weight of 17,000kg the Ghadr usually carries a 650kg warhead, the Iranians say. Iran used an improved propellant from its Shahab-3 missile it says to fuel the Ghadr, with an engine that was similar to the first stage engine of a Safir rocket. What Iran is particularly proud of is the solid-fuel features of the second stage. Iran says that a feature of the propulsion system is the use of composite materials which were much lighter than metal. “This results in significant weight loss and increased propulsion efficiency.”
A long discussion in the article about how the stages separate and propel themselves in followed by a notation that the IRGC launched the satellite from the desert southeast of Tehran and that other aspects of the launch were “hidden from the enemy.” Tasnim notes that an important aspect of the launch was that it involved a moving launcher that was “similar to ballistic missiles in technical considerations and requirements to create such a capability.” As a result the new rocket can be launched from anywhere in the future. It can also be fueled horizontally, which gives it the ability to “launch quickly before being identified by enemy sattellies.” Tasnim claims that the same IRGC base that was used for the rocket was also used for drone and other missile operations.
This is a roadmap to Iran’s militarization of space, the Iranian media says. The Noor-1 satelite has sensors and signals that are important. A second satellite will be launched with even better capabilities the IRGC says. IRGC aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh says that the next launch will see solid fuel used in the first phase of the rocket.
It appears that the Sejjil missile will be used for the first phase, Tasnim says. A new version of the Khorramshahr missile, first tested in 20017, may be seen soon. This is a liquid fueled ballistic missile with a range of up to 2,000km. The IRGC insists is not wasting money on the program. Iran is under sanctions and suffering from Covid-19 and the low oil prices, so the IRGC notes it has recycled old out of service missiles for its launches. “No matter how much the enemies shout, a new missile capability has been achieved for Iran’s armed forces.”
The message of the article is intended to convey that Iran’s missile experts are at the forefront of their field in the region and that they are on par with other major powers. Iran’s central message is to the US, Israel and Gulf states, that it has the technology and power now using long range ballistic missiles to do what it wants in the region. Despite sanctions and concerns from Washington, the IRGC message is that it is moving forward with new tests, missiles and satellites.