Aviation Week & Space Technology reports in its November 29 issue that U. S. intelligence analysts are concerned about the planned launch from Iran, by early 2005, of an Iranian built satellite on an upgraded version of Tehran's largest ballistic missile, the Shahab-3.
The preparations for and launch of one or more Iranian satellite 'is something that needs to be watched closely,' a U. S. government missile analyst familiar with Iranian capabilities told AW&ST.
Such an 'Iranian Sputnik' would elevate the stature of the Iran in the Middle East.
Tehran's satellite launch plans could also be a 'Trojan Horse' to further advance ballistic missile or nuclear warhead related technologies, sources told the magazine. Some of the materials and micro-electronic technologies necessary for Iranian satellite design could also be important for the development of tiny high quality components needed to produce small nuclear weapons, AW&ST reports.
The U. S. intelligence community was taken by surprise in 1998 when a North Korean satellite launch attempt unexpectedly demonstrated a long range North Korean missile capability. U. S. intelligence officials said they do not want to be surprised again, this time by Iran.
Even if they fail initially, Iranian satellite launch attempts would help Iran develop both range and warhead improvements to the Shahab-3 missile under the cover of a civilian space program, AW&ST reports.
If the Iranians are successful with the space launch program, it will have political and technological ramifications in both the U. S. and Middle East. 'It would move the Iranians from the junior varsity into the big leagues,' an analyst told the magazine.
And as previous experience with North Korea shows, such a space launch demonstration can have significant impact in a weapons context. 'Something like that from Iran would certainly have a similar effect in the Middle East,' sources told AW&ST.