Iran opens first space centre, launches rocket
by Aresu Eqbali
TEHRAN - Iran on Monday fired a rocket into space to mark the opening of its first space centre, hailing the base's inauguration as a step forward in its battle against Western dominance.
The space centre, located in the remote desert of northern Iran, will be used to launch Iran's first home-produced satellite "Omid" (Hope) in May or June this year, officials said.
"We witness today that Iran has taken its first step in space very firmly, precisely and with awareness," declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he gave the order for the rocket's launch.
"The evil and dominant system's most important instrument is humiliating people and nations by making them think that they are incapable," he said in a reference to the West.
The rocket launch is believed to be the second time Iran has attempted to put an object into space after it claimed the successful firing of a missile above the atmosphere in February 2007.
The new space centre includes an underground control station and launchpad which will be used to fire Omid into space, followed by other planned satellites in the future, state media said.
"Building and firing a satellite is a major and valuable achievement," said Ahmadinejad, who gave the order from the headquarters of Iran's space organisation in Tehran.
The opening of the space centre comes as Iran has been trumpeting its progress in its nuclear programme, which the West fears could be used to make atomic weapons.
The emphasis on Iran's development of its own domestic space technology is highly reminiscent of its insistence on developing its nuclear capabilities, which has led it into a four-year standoff with the West.
Ahmadinejad has made Iran's scientific development one of the main themes of his presidency, asserting the country has reached a peak of progress and no longer needs to depend on foreign states for help.
"No power can overcome the Iranian nation's will," said Ahmadinejad.
"The world must know that the Iranian nation will preserve the principles and ideals of the Imam (revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) until the end."
State television made great play of the opening of the space centre, which came just days after the annual holiday marking the Islamic revolution, repeatedly showing pictures of the launch and playing patriotic music.
Iran has been pursuing a space programme for the past few years and in October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.
But Omid would be Iran's first domestically manufactured probe and the first to be launched in Iran.
State television broadcast pictures of the launch of the rocket, which resembled Iran's longer-range missile Shahab-3, which has a range of 1,300 to 1,600 kilometres (800 to 1,000 miles).
The rocket blasted off after a countdown to cries of "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Greatest), from the space centre in a desert region in the northern Semnan province.
The pictures showed the rocket heading out towards space but no information was given on what height it reached. A small probe was seen falling back to earth on a parachute but it was not clear what it contained.
State media said the rocket was a sounding probe sent to conduct experiments to pave the way for the launch of the Omid satellite.
Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency that the satellite would be launched in the Iranian month of Khordad, which begins on May 21.
The Russian-launched satellite Sina-1 was Iran's first -- and so far only -- probe to be launched into space, and was described by the Iranian press at the time as being for research and telecommunications.
Iran has said it plans to construct and launch several more satellites over the next three years.