Iran hailed on Wednesday the successful launch of a home-built satellite carrying a rat, turtles and worms, amid Western concerns Tehran is using its nuclear and space industries to develop atomic and ballistic weapons.
Iranian state television said the Kavoshgar 3 (Explorer) rocket carried a capsule containing “live animals” — marking Iran’s first experiment in sending living creatures into space.
Television footage showed a white rat on its back in a container with tubes protruding from its mouth. Two other containers contained respectively several dark worms and small turtles.
The United States branded the rocket launch a “provocative act” as some observers raised fears the craft could be used to develop ballistic missiles, as well as to launch satellites.
White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton said that the Obama administration, which is locked in a nuclear showdown with Tehran, was still checking out reports of the launch.
But he added such a move by Iran would be a “provocative act.”
France said it had received news of the launch with “great concern.”
“This announcement can only reinforce the concerns of the international community as Iran in parallel develops a nuclear programme that has no identifiable civil aims,” a spokesman said in Paris.
Iran’s ISNA news agency said the capsule carrying the creatures returned to earth safely after a U-shaped voyage as planned, but it did not elaborate on the condition of the animals.
“It is a great job that living organisms can be sent into space, we do experiments on them and they return to earth,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said as he welcomed the launch.
The ILNA news agency reported that Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the “biological data of the animals will be sent to us for evaluation.”
State television showed footage of the rocket being fired from a desert launchpad leaving behind a thick plume of smoke.
A few minutes later the grainy images showed the capsule detaching from the rocket and spinning in orbit.
The television also carried pictures of Ahmadinejad unveiling another home-built rocket designed to carry satellites, dubbed Simorgh (Phoenix).
The milk-bottle shaped rocket, emblazoned in blue with the words “Satellite Carrier Simorgh,” is equipped to carry a 100-kilogram (220-pound) satellite 500 kilometres (310 miles) into orbit, the television report said.
The 27-metre (90 foot) tall multi-stage rocket weighs 85 tonnes and its liquid fuel propulsion system has a thrust of up to 100 tonnes, the report added.
Ahmadinejad said Iran was “going to send a satellite 500 kilometres up. The next steps are 700 and 1,000 kilometres. Everyone knows that reaching the 1,000 kilometre orbit allows you to reach all orbits.”
Vahidi revealed details of three new satellite prototypes — the Toloo (Dawn), Navid (Good News), and Mesbah-2 (Lantern) — as well as of Simorgh.
“Toloo is a satellite used for remote survey and weighs 100 kilograms (220 pounds). It is planned to be placed in 500 kilometre orbit for three years,” Vahidi said.
“The Simorgh rocket is able to place a satellite weighing 100 kilos in 500 kilometre orbit,” Vahidi said, adding that a further refinement of the same design would allow satellites to be placed in a 1,000-kilometre orbit.
The satellite launch and the unveiling of the new prototypes came as Iran marked “Space Technology Day” as part of celebrations for the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
Iran launched its first home-built satellite, the Omid (Hope), in February last year to coincide with the 30th anniversary.
In 2008, Iran fired two rockets into space — the Kavoshgar in February and the Kavoshgar 2 in November — but neither was carrying any payload.
The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch space rockets could be diverted into developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Tehran denies having military goals for its space programme or its nuclear drive.