Authorities in Iran are preparing a space launch site to send the first of six civilian satellites into orbit, Iranian Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted on Monday.
The minister linked to a story published by US National Public Radio (NPR), which analyzed satellite recordings showing activity at the Imam Khomenei Space Center in northern Iran.
“Yes, a site is being prepared for placing the Zafar satellite into orbit,” the minister said in a Farsi-language tweet, referring to the Iranian-built communications device. He added that five more satellites were planned to follow Zafar.
The news comes amid a standoff with the US, which accuses Iran of using its space program as a cover for developing new types of ballistic missiles, which could at some point be equipped with nuclear warheads.
After a failed launch a year ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that satellite-carrying rockets “incorporate technologies that are virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles rockets.”
Iran has repeatedly denied US accusations and insisted its space program is peaceful.
Tehran launched its first satellite, Omid (Hope), in 2009. While the feat was followed by other successful launches, the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) has notably struggled in the last 12 months. Two of its launch attempts failed last year in January and February, and a third attempt in August saw a rocket explode on the launch pad.
Earlier this month, Minister Azari-Jahromi tweeted that two Zafar-type satellites had been successfully tested and would soon be put into orbit. He also said that Iran had improved its capacities and should be now be able to launch satellites faster, according to Iranian news agency IRNA.