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Satellite Images Show Iranian Space Launch Activity

What’s happening?

This week, Iran recognized its plans for two solid-fuel rocket tests. On Tuesday, Maxar Technologies took satellite images of a launch pad at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport, which showed evidence of rocket preparations. Iran’s so-called Zuljanah rocket launches satellites into orbit.

In May, Iran’s IRNA state news agency said that seven satellites would likely be ready for launch by March 2023.

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Looking at the social chatter about the rocket launch via Echosec Systems

 

Iran has launched several satellites into orbit in the last ten years, though more recent attempts have failed. Satellite images also showed evidence of a failed launch with Zuljanah in February 2022. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the United States designates as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), has also engaged in satellite launches this year.

Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently passed a resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has responded by removing 27 cameras installed by a global nuclear watchdog designed to monitor the country’s nuclear activities. Iran has also reportedly started installing new centrifuges.  

These events compound tensions between Iran and the US, who have been in a negotiation stalemate to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since March 2022. Reviving the JCPOA, which was abandoned by then-President Donald Trump in 2018, would give Iran sanctions relief in exchange for tighter restrictions on its nuclear and ballistic missile program.

The talks stalled in March 2022 after Russia demanded guarantees that its military and trade relationship with Iran would not be affected by Western-imposed sanctions. The impasse is also tied to Iran’s demand that the US remove its terrorist designation for the IRGC—a request that the US reportedly has no plans to fulfill.

This week, a State Department spokesperson has denied the arrival of any serious proposals from Tehran, suggesting that the gridlock is tighter than ever.

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What’s the impact?

The US intelligence community’s 2022 Annual Threat Assessment says that space launch vehicle developments shorten timelines for intercontinental ballistic missile development. This is because they both use similar technologies. 

Iran’s satellite launches, therefore, signal an increased threat of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The US has responded by claiming that Iran’s satellite activities go against a UN Security Council resolution that supports Iran's nuclear program for peaceful purposes only.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a conflict escalation “would have significant economic, political, and security implications for the United States.” A military conflict could initiate a blockage of the Straight of Hormuz—which carries 30% of the world’s oil supplies—causing a global spike in oil prices. 

The Council also cites jeopardized relationships with US allies, including NATO, should the confrontation escalate into an armed conflict.

The IAEA’s recent resolution has also caused Iran’s national currency to reach record lows, escalating economic hardship for Iranians. Iran’s worsening economic situation, which has been caused both by US sanctions and the Russia-Ukraine war, has also sparked anti-government protests across the country in recent weeks.

How can OSINT help?

According to Pentagon spokesman US Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, Iranian aggression is a top concern for American forces in the region. He also stated that the American military “will continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile program.”

Global intelligence monitoring strategies like this rely on both classified information and open-source intelligence (OSINT), which leverages public information from sources like social media.

For example, OSINT can help intelligence agencies:

  • Find public discussions about Iranian military technology and developments
  • Assess broader trends in the region, like public sentiment and emerging hashtags
  • Evaluate the state of social unrest and political instability in Iran

Mainstream social media, military-focused forums, and data sources popular in EMEA are particularly relevant for this use case. To learn more about OSINT solutions and data sources for geopolitical monitoring, book a call with Echosec Systems today.

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