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Vahid Salemi  /  AP
Iranian technicians work at the satellite data receiving site at Alborz Space Center, in Mahdasht, 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of Tehran, on Wednesday.
By
updated 2/29/2012 12:28:06 PM ET 2012-02-29T17:28:06

Iran opened a key space facility to visiting journalists for the first time Wednesday in an apparent effort to show its willingness to allow glimpses at sensitive technology even as Tehran and U.N. inspectors trade accusations about access to nuclear sites and experts.

The press tour of the Alborz Space Center, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of Tehran, also sought to showcase Iran's advances in aerospace sciences less than a month after it announced another satellite was launched into orbit.

Iran's ambitious space program has raised concerns in the West because of possible military applications. The same rocket technology used to send satellites into orbit — including the Feb. 3 launch of the domestically made Navid, or Gospel — can also be retooled to create intercontinental warheads.

Iran says Navid was designed to collect data on weather conditions and monitor natural disasters.

Political purpose?
The space center visit — by nearly 50 journalists for international media in two separate groups — comes as Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency are locked in disputes over access to officials and key sites in the Islamic Republic's atomic program.

The West and allies fear Iran's uranium enrichment labs could eventually produce weapons-grade material. Iran says it only seek nuclear power for energy and medical research.

Allowing journalists into the space facility could be an attempt to discredit U.N. claims that Iran is keeping a tight lid on its technological capabilities. Officials said the space center has no military role, and is used to control and collect data from various satellites, including Navid.

The facility is on a sprawling tract at the base of hills. Inside are huge satellite dishes as well as buildings housing the control rooms monitoring satellites, including display panels nearly three feet (a meter) across.

"We are the control station for Navid satellite, which has been designed to take pictures from the earth's orbit," project director Mojtaba Saradeghi told the visiting journalists. The visitors were shown a model of the Navid satellite.

Saradeghi said sanctions prevented Iran from buying some of the key equipment needed to build Navid, but Iranian space experts were able to design and produce the equipment.

"We needed various equipment, including sun sensors, for Navid. We could not buy them because of sanctions. So we designed and produced sun sensors ourselves," Saradeghi said.

Other satellites monitored
Kamal Yazdani, another official at the site, said experts here monitor Terra, a multinational NASA scientific research satellite, and other satellites available to the international scientific community.

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"We receive data from these satellites and provide the pictures to research and scientific centers including student projects," he said.

Iran is intent on highlighting its technological successes as signs that Iran can advance despite Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.

Iran sent its first domestically made satellite, called Omid, or Hope, into orbit in February 2009. Iran's space plans are wide-ranging and even hold out the goal of putting a man in orbit within a decade, though it appears Iran is still far from that capability.

In 2005, Iran launched its first commercial satellite on a Russian rocket in a joint project with Moscow, which is a partner in transferring space technology to Iran along with North Korea and China. That same year, the government said it allocated $500 million for space projects in the next five years.

Iran has said it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve its telecommunications. Iranian officials also point to America's use of satellites to monitor Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar abilities for security.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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