Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said on Wednesday that it launched a military satellite into orbit amid wider tensions with the United States, describing it as a successful launch after months of failures.
There was no immediate independent confirmation of the launch of the satellite, which the Guard called “Noor," or light. The State Department and the Pentagon, which contend that such launches advance Iran's ballistic missile program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On its official website, the Guard said the satellite successfully reached an orbit of 264 miles above the Earth's surface. The Guard called it the first military satellite ever launched by Tehran and said it took off from Iran's Central Desert. It did not say when exactly the launch took place.
The launch comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal and after a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January.
Iran has suffered several failed satellite launches in recent months. The latest came in February, when Iran failed to put its Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit.
A launchpad rocket explosion in August drew even the attention of President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the U.S. “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.”
The U.S. alleges such satellite launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. American officials, as well as European nations, worry that these launches could help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. The Guard launching its own satellite now calls that into question.
Tehran also says it hasn’t violated a U.N. resolution on its ballistic missile program as it only “called upon” Iran not to conduct such tests. Western missile experts have also questioned the U.S. contention that Iran’s program could have a dual use for nuclear weapons.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
The launch comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. Iran since has broken all the deal's limitations while still allowing U.N. inspectors to its sites.
On Sunday, the Guard acknowledged it had a tense encounter with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf last week, but alleged without offering evidence that American forces sparked the incident.
Then on Monday, the Guard said it has significantly upgraded the range of its anti-warship missiles and that it now possesses surface-to-surface and subsurface anti-warship missiles with a range as high as 430 miles. Iran periodically announces major advances in its weapons capabilities that cannot be verified independently.
Even as both face the same invisible enemy in the coronavirus pandemic, Iran and the United States remain locked in retaliatory pressure campaigns that now view the outbreak as just the latest battleground.
Initially overwhelmed, Tehran now seeks to sway international opinion on U.S. sanctions — imposed after the U.S. president pulled America out of the nuclear deal — by highlighting its struggles with COVID-19.
In Iran, the regional epicenter of the outbreak, the virus has killed more than 5,290 people, from among over 84,800 reported cases.