Trump tweets about mysterious Iran ‘satellite’ rocket launch

A US official told Reuters that Iran had suffered a satellite launch failure. “It was due to some technical issues and it exploded, but our young scientists are working to fix the problem."

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August 31, 2019 09:03
2 minute read.
A Ghadr 1 class Shahab 3 long range missile is prepared for launch during a test from an unknown loc

A Ghadr 1 class Shahab 3 long range missile is prepared for launch during a test from an unknown location in central Iran. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The US was not involved in the “catastrophic accident” that befell an Iranian rocket launch, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday. The tweet adds mystery to what exactly happened in Iran. Satellite images had already disclosed that an Iranian rocket had exploded on Thursday.

The imagery was provided to news companies, including NPR, and was from a commercial company. “This failure happened maybe a couple minutes before the image was taken,” Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute, told NPR. The Washington had warned Tehran about this type of activity. The rocket might have been part of Iran’s space program to carry a satellite, but it could also be part of Iran’s rocket and missile program.

A US official told Reuters that Iran had suffered a satellite launch failure. “It was due to some technical issues and it exploded, but our young scientists are working to fix the problem," an Iranian official said.

Trump’s tweet adds a layer of mystery to what happened, because even though it denies involvement, the very fact that he tweeted about it appears to reveal US interest in the explosion. Trump’s tweet is unusually technical, noting it was a Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.” Iranian media had not commented on the failure by Friday evening.

The Safir rocket was first fired in 2009 and carried a satellite into orbit. The US has been upping sanctions on Iran as part of its maximum pressure campaign. A recent US cyber attack allegedly harmed Iran’s ability to target tankers. Trump’s tweet comes in that context. It included a photo that appears to be a photo of a photo. The photo shows the destroyed rocket and damaged tower. It also shows damaged vehicles and a damaged Safir launcher that was attached to a mobile erector, one that could be driven to the site.

It seems the photo was produced from a different image than the satellite and has more detail – and it appears that Trump or someone on his team took a photo of the image, which had been mocked up with the labels showing the launcher and debris. This may have been part of a briefing provided to the president.

Internet “intel” accounts that like to use open source information to investigate incidents had spent all Thursday night and Friday looking at details of the satellite image. The Twitter account AuroraIntel notes that the failed launch at the Imam Khomeini Space port was shown on a satellite image taken at 11:18 in the morning (06:48 UTC).


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