Russia plans to launch later this year Iran’s first two satellites which were built to gather intelligence from space, the business daily Kommersant reported Wednesday.
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has signed a directive permitting the Russian defense ministry to launch the two satellites, named Mesbah and Sinah-1, from the Plesetsk launch site in the far north of the country, the daily said.
A copy of the government directive obtained by AFP confirmed that Russia planned to launch the two Iranian satellites as well as six others from countries including China, Britain, Norway, Germany, Japan and the European Space Agency.
The three-point directive, dated January 24, also stipulated that “foreign specialists” would be given access for the launches to the Plesetsk site, traditionally a closed military facility.
Russia has made no secret of its plans for commercial development of the Plesetsk space launch site as an alternative to its Baikonur site which is located in Kazakhstan but which Moscow has retained control over since the breakup of the Soviet Union under a long-term lease agreement.
Kommersant said the two Iranian satellites were due to be launched between April and June of this year and said they were designed for “distant examination of the earth’s surface,” a term the daily said was the common idiom for intelligence gathering.
A government spokesman contacted by AFP was unable to confirm the purpose of the Iranian satellites and the Fradkov directive described them only as built for “scientific purposes.”
The satellites were to be launched aboard Russian-built Kosmos-3M rockets and would be placed in a low geo-stationary orbit, Kommersant said.
The news comes amid rising tension between the United States and Iran over the Islamic state’s nuclear program and seemed likely to come under close scrutiny by Washington, which is nervous about Tehran’s development of advanced technologies with dual military and civilian uses.
Iranian media reported Sunday that Tehran and Moscow had signed a 132-million-dollar contract for construction of a new Iranian telecommunications satellite, the Zohreh (Venus).
That satellite would be used to bolster Tehran’s telecommunications infrastructure by handling data, audio and video signals, and is to be operational within two and a half years, the Iranian news agency IRNA said.