Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Saturday launched a new satellite-carrying rocket, state TV reported, seeking to demonstrate the force’s space prowess even as anti-government protests rage across the country.
Iranian state TV said the Guard successfully launched the solid-fuelled rocket — what it called a Ghaem-100 satellite carrier — and aired dramatic footage of the rocket blasting off from a desert launch pad into a cloudy sky.
The report did not reveal the location, which resembled Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province.
The state-run IRNA news agency reported that the carrier would be able to put a satellite weighing 80 kg (176 pounds) into orbit some 500 kilometres (310 miles) from Earth.
Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guard’s aerospace division, said he hoped the Guard would soon use the rocket to put a new satellite, named Nahid, into orbit.
Iran says its satellite program, like its nuclear activities, is aimed at scientific research and other civilian applications.
The United States and other Western countries have long been suspicious of the program because the same technology can be used to develop long-range missiles. Previous launches have drawn rebukes from the US.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
The program has seen recent troubles, however. There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh program, another satellite-carrying rocket.
A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
A launchpad rocket explosion later that year drew the attention of former President Donald Trump.
The Guard’s announcement came in the seventh week of protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained after allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
The protests embroiling the country first focused on the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, but swiftly morphed into one of the biggest challenges to the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Protesters chant for overthrowing the clerical rule and the death of the supreme leader.
Security forces, including paramilitary volunteers with the Revolutionary Guard, have violently cracked down on the demonstrations, killing over 300 people, according to rights groups.
On Saturday, student unions in Iran reported protests in at least six major universities across the country.
Universities have been hubs for unrest, fuelling the protest movement despite the crackdown.
Anger over Iran’s sickly economy, suffocated by US sanctions and years of mismanagement, has also driven people into the streets.
Talks to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for strict curbs on its atomic program, hit a deadlock months ago.
On Saturday, Iran’s currency, the rial, plunged to its lowest value ever — 360,000 rial — to the dollar. Iran’s currency was trading at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of the 2015 nuclear accord.