Satellites, missiles and drones: Who is IRGC scientist Abdollah Mehrabi?

While Mehrabi has been publicly linked to Iran's drone project, his role expands to the country's space and ballistic missile programs.

 Launch of Qaem 100 satellite (photo credit: MEHR NEWS AGENCY)
Launch of Qaem 100 satellite
(photo credit: MEHR NEWS AGENCY)

One man links a recent satellite launcher test and a recent anti-aircraft test conducted by the IRGC: Iranian researcher Abdollah Mehrabi.

Mehrabi, who serves as the chief of the IRGC's Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization (SSJO), has been sanctioned in the past for his role in procuring engines for UAVs, but his role expands far beyond just drones, explained Israeli intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon, who runs the Intelli Times blog.

Mehrabi, who also heads the Aerospace Department at the IRGC-affiliated Imam Hossein University in Tehran, replaced Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the "father" of Iran's missile program, in Iran's efforts to develop ballistic missiles and rockets for launching satellites.

While the IRGC's Aerospace programs have received more focus in recent years, Mehrabi has largely remained under the radar, with little mention of him in public except for a sanctions announcement from the US Treasury last year.

Launch of Qaem 100 satellite carrier (Credit: Mehr News Agency)

The sanctions announcement named Mehrabi as "chief of the IRGC ASF Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization (SSJO)" and co-owner of the Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar Company, which has procured UAV engines for the IRGC and industries working with it. No further information on Mehrabi himself was provided.

Mehrabi's identification as the successor to Moghaddam was first reported by Solomon in the Mishpacha magazine in 2021, where he was named as a member of the scientific committee at Imam Hossein University and a research fellow at Sharif University of Technology.

Mehrabi has a background in rocket propulsion and is listed as one of the authors on a book on the "Principles of propulsion systems, with special emphasis on rocket engines." Another paper written by Mehrabi concerns effectively reducing the weight of wings in order to optimize wings used in the aerospace industry, while another of his papers covers reducing the aerodynamic drag of a projectile.

Iran continues to move forward with its missile and space programs

While uranium enrichment is mentioned often as a central concern in Iran's efforts to build a nuclear weapon, ballistic missiles and warheads capable of carrying a nuclear payload far distances will be the next concern if Iran enriches enough uranium for a weapon.

On Sunday, the IRGC announced the successful test of the Qaem 100 small-lift launch vehicle, Iran's first three-stage solid fuel satellite carrier. The IRGC stated that scientists from its Aerospace Force developed the satellite carrier and added that the Iranian Nahid satellite will soon be launched into orbit using the Qaem 100, which can carry a payload of up to 80kg, according to Iranian officials.

The Iranian Fars News Agency noted that the technology used in the Qaem 100 could be used for a long-range missile. The new carrier uses composite materials instead of metal, making the vehicle lighter and increasing its range and abilities.

On Tuesday, the Iranian Army announced the successful test of the "Bavar 373" air-defense system using the "Sayad B-4" interceptor. The Intelli Times blog revealed on Tuesday that the system was developed at a base belonging to the SSJO in Tehran, near the headquarters of the IRGC's Aerospace Forces, the Mehrabad airport and the logisitics centers of the IRGC.

In mid-October, The Intel Lab intelligence account published satellite imagery appearing to show increased construction activity in recent months at missile production complexes in Khojir and in Parchin, as well as a rocket motor test in Khojir.

The announcement of the Qaem 100 test and the Sayad B-4 test, as well as the use of Iranian drones in Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, are all under Mehrabi's purview, as the two tests are linked to the SSJO and the Iranian scientist has been linked to the development of Iranian UAV's in the past.

Efforts to thwart Iran's missile and space programs continue

Multiple incidents in the past decade have resulted in damage and casualties at facilities affiliated with Iran's missile and space program and the SSJO, with many of the incidents blamed on Israel.

In November 2011, an explosion hit a missile base in Bidganeh, killing at least 17 members of the IRGC, including Moghaddam, Mehrabi's predecessor. While the explosion was initially reported as an accident, Western media, including the Guardian and Time magazine, reported that the incident was being blamed on the Mossad.

In 2019, a rocket being tested at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran exploded on the launch pad, according to satellite imagery published by NPR.

In February 2019, then Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC that it was possible that there was a US campaign to sabotage Iranian satellite launches, as the country had already conducted two failed launches that year. Shortly before Zarif's comments, The New York Times reported that the US had accelerated a secret program to sabotage Iran's missiles and rockets.

In June 2020, an explosion was reported near Tehran, with Iranian officials claiming that industrial gas tanks near Parchin had exploded, but western analyses finding that the explosion likely took place at the missile production sites in the Khojir area, including facilities used to produce both solid-propellant and liquid-fuel missiles.

In September 2021, a fire broke out at the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group missile base in Karaj, near Tehran, killing two workers and injuring one at the facility. The IRGC-affiliated Sobh-e-Sadegh newspaper later reported that the fire was caused by an attack by Israel. The New York Times also reported that Israel was behind the incident. The Shahid Hemmat missile base is located near Bidganeh, where Moghaddam was killed.

In June of this year, an explosion shook western Tehran, with satellite imagery shared by Intelli Times appearing to show damage to the roof of a structure at the Shahid Hemmat base, indicating that the base had been targeted for a second time.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas cited "well-informed Iranian sources" at the time claiming that the Shahid Hemmat base was seemingly attacked by drones. According to the report, drones launched from within Iran not far from the base hit the site. Al-Qabas added that new tests of ballistic missile engines had recently been conducted at the base.

Additionally, in June, Iranian officials announced that two personnel from the IRGC's Aerospace Force had been killed while "carrying out their mission" in Iran. Shortly after one of the personnel was killed, satellite imagery revealed that preparations for a space launch were being conducted at the site he was killed at. Iran International reported that the deaths were "not accidents," but did not provide further information.

In September of this year, a member of the IRGC's Aerospace Force was killed during a "mission" in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province in southeastern Iran. The operative, named Ali Mohammadi, was part of the Ansar al-Reza Corps which is based in the South Khorasan Province, according to the governor of South Khorasan. The cause of the operative's death was not published.