Iran’s ICBM Capability on Global Display

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By Sean Osborne, Assistant Director, Military Affairs Specialist

3 February 2010: According to various news sources Iran launched an indigenously manufactured Omid (Hope) satellite into a 55 degree inclined low earth orbit (LEO) at 18:30 GMT yesterday via their indigenously developed Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) launch vehicle. Other reports cite the launch vehicle as being the Safir-2 making the specific identification unconfirmed.

Early direct and parametric observations are indicating that this was a 2-stage launch to orbital altitude. One orbit of the Omid and rocket body is accomplished in 90 minutes and the orbital altitudes range from an apogee of 200 miles to a perigee (closest approach to earth) of 150 miles. The perigee altitude is just 50 miles above the minimum altitude required for sub-orbital space flight, making the Omid’s orbit analogous to that of an orbiting ICBM warhead.

The launched satellite is reportedly a capsule carrying live animals (a rat, some turtles and worms). The live animals onboard the satellite would tend to indicate that Iran intends to precisely de-orbit the satellite for a return to earth at some point. Even if the animals fail to survive this “space mission” a successful de-orbiting of the capsule would be the primary objective of the mission. I cannot help but to speculate that given Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad recent statements of a “surprise” on 11 February that this capsule is to be de-orbited on that date.

Assessment: Iran is using the anniversary of its Shi’a Islamic revolution to demonstrate its new intercontinental ballistic missile system and warhead de-orbiting capability to the West and to Israel despite months and months of futile Western-imposed economic sanctions. The message sent by this launch is now crystal clear: time has now expired with respect to making a decision to act against the Iranian nuclear weapons and delivery program.

Director’s note: Also something (very unpleasant) to think about: EMP 101