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Iran to launch satellite on its own by late 2011

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran plans to launch a communications satellite by late 2011 with no outside help, a top Iranian official said Friday, after Italy and Russia declined to put it into orbit.

The move reflected Tehran's frustration with the two countries as it tries to push ahead with an ambitious space program, which has worried world powers because the same rocket technology used to launch satellites can also be used for military purposes.

Israeli media have claimed that the new Iranian satellite, named Misbah, or "Lantern" in Farsi, is a spy satellite. Iran says the satellite, which is to be launched into a low-earth orbit, is to assist in data communication.

Telecommunications Minister Reza Taqipour touted the decision to launch the satellite as a show of Iran's progress in space technology.

"Our capability to launch a satellite has increased ... we hope to launch Mesbah satellite-2 ourselves" by the end of 2011, Taqipour said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

Earlier this month, the head of Iran's Aero Space Industries, Gen. Mahdi Farahi, announced Tehran would use Italy to launch Mesbah after waiting for years in vain for Russia to do the job.

But Italy's Carlo Gavazzi Space company promptly denied the report, saying it does not have the capabilities to put Misbah in orbit.

Iran launched a domestically made satellite — called Omid, or "Hope" in Farsi — using an Iranian rocket for the first time in February. In 2005, its first satellite was launched by Russia, which has been a partner in transferring space technology to Iran along with North Korea and China.

The Mesbah satellite was first displayed in 2005. At the time, Iran said it would be launched that year by a Russian Cosmos-3 satellite-carrier. Since then, however, there were repeated delays by Russia.

Iran has been frustrated by what it sees as foot-dragging by Russia on a number of projects, at a time when Russia, the United States and other powers are pressing Tehran to compromise in the standoff over its nuclear program.

A top Iranian lawmaker earlier this week complained about Russia's delay in delivering the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft system. Russia and Iran signed an agreement for the system 2007, but Israel vociferously opposes the deal and has been lobbying Russia not to deliver it.

Russia is also helping Iran build its first nuclear power plant, but its inauguration has also been repeatedly delayed.

Iran has said it wants to put 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 Iran's neighbors Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar abilities for their security.