Iran’s Fourth Successful Satellite Launch

, senior scientist | February 2, 2015, 6:07 pm EDT
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Despite a report two weeks ago from that Iran’s space program was unceremoniously shut down, it appears to be alive and well. Iran successfully launched a small satellite into orbit for the fourth time, just a day ahead of Iran’s national space day.

Here’s Iranian PressTV’s video of the launch.

The satellite was named Fajr, or Dawn, and is already being tracked by NORAD’s (along with its upper stage) in a 224 x 470 km orbit with 55.53 degree inclination.

Hobbled by sanctions and the inherent difficulty of space launch, Iran’s space program has been struggling to build on its initial success of getting three small, fragile satellites into orbit. Fajr was meant to launch more than 2 years ago, in May 2012. The launch was never announced, and analyses published in Jane’s Intelligence Review reported that the launch—as well as another in fall 2012—probably failed, going by images of scorch marks on the launch pad.. There may have been another failed attempt in February 2013. Iran has taken the approach of building an inventory of satellites, via numerous academic and industrial programs, so multiples copies of the Fajr are possible.

Iran's Safir launcher (Source: Fars news agency)

Iran’s Safir launcher (Source: Fars news agency)


The Fajr satellite is reported to be 50 kg, so it is comparable to the previous satellites Iran has placed in orbit. What is notable about Fajr is that it is the first Iranian satellite to have an on-board propulsion system, which is believed to be a simple cold gas thruster. This permits changing the satellite’s orbit, which can extend its lifetime significantly if it can be raised to an orbit with less atmospheric drag. PressTV reported that Fajr could stay in orbit for a year and a half and has a target orbit of 450 km. Eighteen months is a reasonable lifetime for a circular orbit at that altitude. Fajr reportedly uses solar cells that would power operations for that lifetime. An on-board navigation system helps Iran track it. Fajr will take relatively low-resolution images of the earth and transmit them back to Iranian ground stations. The satellite reportedly has already successfully communicated with its operators.


This launch was from the same launch complex with the same type of launcher (Safir) as the previous three satellite launches, and is an incremental advance. We still have yet to see a launch of the  liquid-fueled Simorgh launcher that Iran has been reported for years to be developing, which is several times more massive than the Safir and has the capacity to lift heavier payloads and to higher orbits.

In the larger context, the Safir launcher is a modest rocket, and isn’t derived from an ICBM nor is it an ICBM precursor. In PressTV video, the announcer reflects that this launch shows that Iran is not coming to negotiations from a point of weakness but of technological strength, indicating that the success of the space launch program may have political importance domestically in Iran.

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  • J_kies

    Laura; a few questions and a point:
    Did official Iranian sources specifically deny the ISA dissolution story?
    Is the satellite being operated by ISA in the stories or some other institution?
    Since all prior Iranian satellites destructively reentered within ~ 2 months of insertion on orbit with this SLV why would we expect this satellite to be both more massive and have a longer on-orbit life?

    Bear in mind that cold gas thrusters usually have Isp capping around 60s or less and the elevation of perigee to circularize the orbit isn’t a small adjustment.

    Thanks for pointing out that the SLV is barely capable of microsatellites and is certainly not a militarily relevant booster stack for IRBM or ICBM application.

  • Laura

    J_kies, I could find nothing official confirming or denying big changes to ISA, and the Iranian press coverage of these issues has always been disorganized. Only in Farsi press did I even see a mention of a reorganization, and the Medium article was not sourced. It also conflates ending the space program with the dissolution of the space agency, which doesn’t necessarily follow.

    The 50 kg mass reported for Fajr is the same for the last satellite successfully launched, Navid. The longer time before de-orbit is only if the satellite’s orbit is successfully raised, of course, but the delta v needed to circularize at apogee is less than 0.1 km/s. It’s doable on the relevant timescale even with low thrust, low Isp simple cold gas thruster.

    • J_kies

      Twiddling the rocket equation with the most generous Isp cold gas values lead to implausible masses of cold gas for 100m/s dV on a 50kg wet mass system.

      Do track the changes in the 2-line orbital elements while its on orbit. If it really is a cold gas thruster then I am willing to offer bets it won’t pass 4 months on orbit.