TEHRAN, Iran - Iran sent its first domestically made satellite into orbit, the president announced yesterday, a key step for an ambitious space program that worries the United States and other world powers because the same rocket technology used to launch satellites can also deliver warheads.
For nearly a decade, Iran has sought to develop a national space program, creating unease among international leaders already concerned about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The telecommunications satellite - called Omid, or
, in Farsi - was launched late Monday after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave the order to proceed, according to a report on state radio. State television showed footage of what it said was the nighttime liftoff of the rocket carrying the satellite at an unidentified location in Iran.
A U.S. counterproliferation official confirmed the launch and suggested the technology was not sophisticated. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-gathering, the official said it appeared it "isn't too far removed from Sputnik," the first Soviet orbiter launched in 1957.
The Iranian TV report praised the launch as part of festivities marking the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-backed shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.
In a year in which Ahmadinejad faces a tough election battle to stay in power, the launch provided a symbol of national pride to hold up even as falling oil prices batter the economy and the hard-line leader's popularity.
As it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East, Iran touts such technological successes as signs it can advance despite U.S. and U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.
The launch touched off concern in the United States, Europe and Israel about possible links between its satellite programs and its work with missiles and nuclear technology.
"There's almost always a link between satellite programs like this and military programs, and there's almost always a link between satellites and nuclear weapons. It's the same delivery vehicle," said James Lewis, an expert on defense technology at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs condemned the launch, saying: "This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region."
State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood accused Iran of using the space-launch program as a technological stepping-stone to develop long-range ballistic missiles.
Yiftah Shapir, a top Israeli expert on the Iranian space program, said the launch itself "doesn't really mean much to Israel. We knew about it beforehand."