Iran’s Space Program to Accelerate with Support from China and Russia

Defence Industry, Space

By Arie Egozi

Tel Aviv. While doubts grow about the alleged Russian willingness to supply an advanced spy satellite to Iran, the country’s space program has been accelerated with massive help from China. It was expected that President Biden will try to get a detailed answer on this issue in his meeting today with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

“The slack attitude of the US in the negotiations with Iran on a new nuclear agreement, signalled to Teheran that it can initiate programs that were out of the question until recently”, one Israeli defence source said.

Two weeks ago, some media outlets claimed that Russia agreed to deliver an advanced spy satellite system to Iran that will vastly improve its spying capabilities. According to some of the reports Moscow is preparing to give Iran a Kanopus-V satellite. Israeli sources said that this satellite is equipped with a low resolution payload. Israeli experts say that this satellite is used by Russia for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters.

“This type of satellite will not be of real use to Iran’s military”, an Israeli very senior source said. When this deal is surrounded with doubts , one thing is clear – Iran is using Chinese technology to develop more advanced launchers and satellites. If it finally gets the low resolution from Russia it will be an interim stage until it can launch a high resolution spy satellite based on Chinese technology. Iran plans to accelerate it space program soon after the sanctions are removed.

According to Space Watch Global the close defence cooperation between China and Iran may come in the form of communication and high-resolution earth observation satellites. Iran is currently looking to acquire both a National Remote Sensing Satellite (NRSS) and a National Communications Satellite (NCS). While it is thought that Iran is intent on building its own NRSS, it is looking to have a foreign manufacturer produce its NCS, and it is understood that at least one Chinese satellite manufacturer is interested in bidding for that project. Even with the NRSS, a burgeoning Sino-Chinese defence and intelligence relationship could result in China providing key expertise and technologies to help Iran build such a satellite.

According to the website, while technology transfers and expertise is obviously a main feature in any defence and intelligence relationship, other factors can be just as important to Beijing and Tehran, as well as third countries. An intelligence relationship, for example, implies intelligence data exchanges, that might also include the provision of high-resolution satellite imagery from China to Iran. Further, the two countries might also exchange data, methods, and other information on space techniques and procedures and other sensitive issues.

Israeli defence sources said that Iran’s plan to get a high resolution spy satellite is used by China to deepen its access to Iran’s most sensitive issues “this for commercial reasons but as it is always with China, this is also a way of getting a tighter grasp of this strategically located country , the top enemy of America”, one of the sources said. Iran is also working on the development of an advanced satellite launcher. The IRIS launch vehicle is a space related derivation of the Iranian Shihab 3  ballistic missile.

For years , Iran’s space program has been tightly tied to Teheran’s special relations with China and Russia. In April 2020, when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit, it indicated the existence of a military space program. The satellite was launched by the Qased (Messenger), a three-stage rocket that used more advanced technology than in previous rocket tests.

Former US Secretary of State Pompeo condemned the launch as proof of Iran’s military ambitions in space. “For years, Iran has claimed its space program is purely peaceful and civilian,” Pompeo said. “The most recent military launch, which was developed and conducted in secret, proves that these statements were lies”. So now when the US is ready to remove the sanctions from Iran, there is no doubt among Israeli experts that this country will invest heavily in a program aimed at launching an advanced spy satellite into space.


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