Simorgh Launch: Iran’s Bigger Ride to Space Gets off the Ground

July 30, 2017
Laura Grego
Former Senior Scientist

Iranian press has announced a successful launch of the Simorgh space launch vehicle.

A couple days later, there’s no sign of an orbital object being tracked from the launch. It’s not like the US space surveillance to take so long to catalog a low-earth orbiting object, so I don’t think one is forthcoming.

That nothing got to orbit may be either by design or failure. Iran tends not to announce its space program failures, and the video showed at least the early part of the launch went off without catastrophe. In any case, this would be the first successful launch of the Simorgh. We wrote a few pieces on Simorgh last year, in anticipation of its launch then: first, second, third.

What’s interesting about the Simorgh?

So far, all Iran’s satellites have been launched with the Safir rocket, which is significantly less capable than the Simorgh. The Simorgh is closer to North Korea’s Unha, but with two stages instead of three.

Simorgh was meant to be launched in 2010; its conspicuous absence could mean that its development has been harder than anticipated, or that sanctions on ballistic missile and space technology have limited Iran’s ability to get materials it needs, or that there have been test launches that have failed and not been reported. Last year’s test may have been one such failure, or it may have been a suborbital test.

Why would Iran want satellites?

A new satellite would be the fifth for Iran, following Omid (2009), Rasad (2011), Navid (2012), and Fajr (2015). These satellites were all launched by the Safir rocket.

These were all small satellites, 50 kg or lighter, lofted into such low-altitude orbits that atmospheric drag brought them down within weeks. I’ve not seen any data published from these satellites. Perhaps they didn’t work as anticipated or perhaps the results were not impressive enough to burnish the program’s reputation.

The Simorgh is larger and more capable than Safir, and can put heavier satellites at higher orbits. Larger satellites mean more capability, and higher orbits mean they will stay up for longer. Iran is a large country with tough geography—big deserts & mountains. It’s prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, and has adversarial neighbors. It could benefit from satellites for national security purposes as well as for economic & social development.