Failed satellite launch causes massive explosion in rural Iran

Authorities were investigating the source of explosions and lights reported by locals on Sunday; parts of the satellite had been found "in unpopulated areas... and citizens had no cause to worry."

Iran Zafar satellite launch, Feb. 9, 2020 (photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
Iran Zafar satellite launch, Feb. 9, 2020
(photo credit: TASNIM NEWS AGENCY)
Iran's fourth failed satellite launch in a year ended with a bang after the Zafar satellite failed to enter orbit on Sunday, crashing in a rural area of southeast Iran. Local residents reported eight massive explosions and saw a large light in the sky, according to Radio Farda.
Iran succeeded in launching the new satellite into outer space, but failed to place the satellite into orbit, according to Iranian reports. All stages of the launch proceeded correctly, but the satellite did not reach the speed needed to inject it into the desired orbit, according to the Iranian Fars News.
According to NASA, the launch appears to have failed during the second or third stage of the flight when the Simorgh rocket reached the 540 kilometer trajectory, about a thousand meters per second short of the velocity required to reach orbit.
An official from the Governor's Office of Zahedan said that parts of the satellite had crashed near the city, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan Province, according to Radio Farda. The province's Security and Law Enforcement deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that authorities were investigating the source of explosions and lights reported by locals on Sunday, adding that parts of the satellite had been found "in unpopulated areas close to Zahedan and citizens had no cause to worry."
 
Iran's Information and Communications Technology minister, Azari Jahromi, claimed that the Zafar had landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday and promised to launch another version of the satellite into orbit in May or June.
Jahromi responded to the failed launch by pointing to the US space program's past failed launches and calling Iran "unstoppable."
"Today 'Zafar' satellite launch failed. Like many scientific projects, Failure happened. FALCON 9, Juno II, ATLAS, PROTON M, ANTARES are just few samples of US launch failures. But We're UNSTOPPABLE! We have more Upcoming Great Iranian Satellites," tweeted Jahromi on Sunday.

The spokesperson for the space sector of the Iranian Defense Ministry, Ahmad Hosseini, said that the launch was a research launch and that the main objectives for research in the launch were accomplished, according to the Iranian Tasnim News Agency. “As announced before, it was a research launch, and our expectations were satisfied in the respective sectors,” said Hosseini. “We consider the launch as a successful one, because the research launch is not aimed at the injection phase.”
The spokesperson added that the satellite succeeded in connecting to bases on Earth for a few minutes, transmitted signals; its performance was tested. “The data analysis and modifications will be carried out at the shortest time possible, and the next launch will be performed soon," said Hosseini.
The first mission of the Zafar (Victory) satellite was supposed to be the transmission of an image of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was assassinated by the US in January, according to the Iranian Mehrs news agency.
The launch was delayed on Saturday for unknown reasons. Morteza Barari, head of the country's national space agency, stated that the satellite was scheduled to have been launched last week, had passed all tests and that there were "no issues for putting it in orbit," but did not clarify why the launch was delayed.
On Saturday, Sadjad Bonabi, an official from Iran's Telecommunications Infrastructures Company, announced that a cyberattack temporarily disrupted Internet services in the country, but added that Iran's Dezhfa firewall had repelled the attack. Internet watchdog Netblocks reported a disruption in Internet service in Iran on Saturday, as well as after authorities reportedly activated the "Digital Fortress" isolation mechanism.
According to Bonabi, the disruption was caused by a DDoS attack in which attackers attempt to make a network unavailable by sending too many requests to the IP of a country, causing an overload which leads to disruptions or causes the network to crash. The attack originated in East Asia and North America but did not seem to be the work of another government, he said.
Nariman Gharib, a UK-based journalist and activist, stated that the botnet attack was "massive," according to Radio Farda, adding that the attack happened on the day that the Zafar satellite was supposed to be launched.
Development of the 113-kilogram Zafar satellite began three years ago, said Morteza Barari, head of the country's national space agency, on Saturday.
Two versions of the satellite were produced, in case the first launch failed. The primary mission of the satellite was to be the collection of imagery, according to Barari. Iran's satellite program is for the "peaceful use of outer space. All our activities in the domain of outer space are transparent," he said, according to AFP.
The spokesman for the Iranian Defense Ministry’s Space Group announced last week that Iran is planning on revealing two new domestically-made satellite carriers in "the near future," according to Tasnim.
The Islamic Republic is attempting to build solid-fuel satellite carriers and will reveal the "Sarir" and "Soroush" soon, according to the spokesman.
The Iranian Space Agency (ISA) hoped to construct five more satellites by March 2021.
Iran launched its first satellite "Omid" (Hope) into orbit in February 2009, according to Fars. A second satellite, "Rasad" (Observation), was launched in June 2011. A third, "Navid" (Promise), launched in February 2012.
Development of the "Payam 2" telecommunications satellite will begin by late May, according to Barari. Building the satellite will take up to four years. In January of last year, a satellite named Payam was launched by Iran, but failed to reach the "necessary speed" in the third stage of its launch due to technical problems, according to Fars.
Barari told Fars on Saturday that Iran is among the top five countries with a space station and among the top nine countries in the field of designing and making satellites. Iran will launch four more satellites into orbit between March 2020 and March 2021, according to Barari. "These will include two satellites for measurement and imaging and two others for IT purposes," he said.
Iran is also planning on sending astronauts to space with an "advanced country," Barari told Fars.
"The talks are underway, and we hope to reach an agreement with one of the countries to commence the project," said Barari, who declined to name the country with which the ISA is speaking.
Iran's space aspirations suffered from three failed satellite launches in 2019: one in January, another in February and a third in August. The United States has warned Iran against rocket launches, fearing the technology used to put satellites into orbit could help it develop the ballistic missile capability needed to launch nuclear warheads, though Tehran denies its activity is a cover for such development.


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