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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it launched satellite into orbit

The Guard said the satellite successfully reached an orbit of 425km above the Earth’s surface.

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An Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province (Sepahnews via AP)

An Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province (Sepahnews via AP)

An Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province (Sepahnews via AP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says it launched its first satellite into space amid wider tensions with the US.

Using a mobile launcher at a new launch site, the Guard said it put the “Noor”, or “Light”, satellite into a low orbit circling the Earth.

While the US, Israel and other countries declined to immediately confirm the satellite reached orbit, their criticism suggested they believed the launch happened.

The launch comes as Iran has abandoned all the limitations of its tattered nuclear deal with world powers that President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from in 2018.

Mr Trump’s decision set off a months-long series of escalating attacks that culminated in a US drone strike in January that killed a top Iranian general in Iraq, followed by Tehran launching ballistic missiles at American soldiers in Iraq.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump tweeted he had told the US Navy “to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” both raising energy prices and renewing the risk of conflict.

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In this image taken from video, an Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province (IRIB via AP)

In this image taken from video, an Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province (IRIB via AP)

AP/PA Images

In this image taken from video, an Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province (IRIB via AP)

“Now that you have the maximum pressure campaign, Iran doesn’t have that much to lose anymore,” said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

The three-stage satellite launch took off from Iran’s Central Desert, the Guard said, without elaborating.

Mr Hinz said based on state media images, the launch appeared to have happened at a previously unacknowledged Guard base near Shahroud, Iran, some 205 miles north-east of Tehran.

The base is in Semnan province, which hosts the Imam Khomeini Spaceport from which Iran’s civilian space programme operates.

The paramilitary force said it used a “Qased”, or “Messenger”, satellite carrier to put the device into space, a previously unheard-of system.

It described the system as using both liquid and solid fuel.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched its first satellite (IRIB via AP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched its first satellite (IRIB via AP)

AP/PA Images

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched its first satellite (IRIB via AP)

Wednesday marked the 41st anniversary of the founding of the Guard by Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

An image of the rocket that carried the satellite showed it bore a Quranic verse typically recited when going on a journey, as well as a drawing of the Earth with the word Allah in Farsi wrapped around it.

It remained unclear what the satellite it carried does.

“Today, the world’s powerful armies do not have a comprehensive defence plan without being in space, and achieving this superior technology that takes us into space and expands the realm of our abilities is a strategic achievement,” said General Hossein Salami, the head of the Guard.

The Guard, which operates its own military infrastructure parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces, is a hard-line force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

International criticism of the launch came quickly.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “Iran needs to be held accountable for what it’s done”.

At a Pentagon news conference on Wednesday, senior officials called the satellite launch a provocation.

“We view this as further evidence of Iran’s behaviour that is threatening in the region,” said David Norquist, the deputy secretary of defence.

General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the launched vehicle “went a very long way”.

He said it was too early to say whether it successfully placed a satellite in orbit.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry described the launch as a “facade for Iran’s continuous development of advanced missile technology”.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger warned that “the Iranian rocket programme has a destabilising effect on the region and is also unacceptable in view of our European security interests”.

US Army Major Rob Lodewick, a Pentagon spokesman, told The Associated Press that American officials continue to monitor Iran’s programme.

“While Tehran does not currently have intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), its desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to develop an ICBM,” Maj Lodewick said.

The US alleges such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering 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 has not violated a UN resolution on its ballistic missile programme as it only “called upon” Iran not to conduct such tests.

Iran has suffered several failed satellite launches in recent months.

PA