Satellite imagery reveals some preparations for Iran’s upcoming Simorgh rocket launch. The imagery suggests that Iran is fueling the Simorgh rocket and shows an uptick in activity at the Imam Khomeini Space Center. Those preparations suggest that Iran’s promised satellite launch may take soon.
The Simorgh rocket has a first stage similar to the one in the rocket North Korea recently launched, the Taepodong-2. This would be the first launch attempt of the Simorgh, a mythical winged female creature.
And the imagery has a story to tell. First, the new image reveals that Iran has completed construction at the site, which is called Launch Complex 2. Second, the launch gantry, which moves along rails, is now positioned over the launch bucket. That suggests Iran is stacking up and fueling the rocket inside. Third, there are a lot of vehicles on site. That means personnel are there working. This is pretty much what preparing to launch looks like.
Iran has successfully placed four satellites into orbit before with its Safir rocket: the Omid (2009), Rasad (2011), Navid (2012), and Fajr (2015). These were all small satellites, 50 kg or lighter, lofted into such low-altitude orbits that atmospheric drag brought them down within weeks. Simorgh, being a much larger and more capable launcher than Safir, could potentially put larger satellites into higher orbits. Larger satellites mean more capability, and higher orbits mean they will stay up for longer. It is not clear though, whether or not the Simorg will place a satellite into orbit in its maiden journey into the space.
Can Simoorgh be used as an ICMB ? The first stage of the Simorgh is very similar to North Korea’s Taepodong-2. There are differences, but the Simorgh demonstrates two essential technologies for an ICBM — clustered engines and staging. That said, the Simorgh itself is not an ICBM.
Not carrying a satellite on the first launch attempt of a new rocket sounds sensible, but the lack of a satellite is likely to make the launch look yet more problematic with respect to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, Annex B which states:
“Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier.”
While the Simorgh appears to be designed as a satellite launcher, not a ballistic missile, and it appears incapable of delivering a nuclear weapon over long ranges, it does appear to use ballistic missile-relevant technology.
This is not the point, though. Iran’s goal is presumably to learn and improve satellite construction, control and communications, and to systematically improve its launch capabilities.