Space Ambitions for Peace and Pride
On 4th February 2008 I.R. Iran successfully launched the sub-orbital rocket Safir (stands for “Envoy” in Persian) from its newly opened domestic launch site in northeast. The test was noted to be a major step towards country’s attempt to launch its first home-made low-orbit research satellite Omid (Hope). The orbited probe by I.R. Iran’s Launch Vehicle (IRILV) sends real-time data down from the altitude of about 250km. Launch of Safir (announced as Kavoshgar-1 or Explorer-1 by the media) was a preparatory mission for orbiting Omid coming summer. The Minister of Communications and Information Technology (CIT), M. Suleimani whose Ministry covers space related civil activities said, “For research and to remove the problems raised by earthquakes, floods, desertification and deforestation, communications and service providing to the remote areas that is only possible relying on space technology we need for attending in space.”
The near-polar orbit Omid will fly at the altitude of 650km and will pass over Iran six times every 24 hours. When launched, Omid will be Iran’s second satellite in orbit after Sina-1. Iran put into orbit its Russian-made satellite Sina-1 on 27th October 2005 led Iran to become the 43rd nation to own a satellite. Nevertheless, Iran has pursued a space program for several years. The idea of using space and its technologies for the peaceful purposes and nation’s welfare is as old as the time when Iran joined other 17 countries to establish the UN ad-hoc Committee for International Cooperation on Space in 1958 which later changed its name to the Committee of Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). The Committee aims to review international collaborative programs to exploit and use space for civil purposes, serve as a forum for information exchanges, and encourage development and facilitate the advancement of national programs to study outer space.
Space technology applications were spread in Iran by some organizations indicating country’s premium interest to further understanding and using this arena. Soon after the launch of the United States first earth observation system, Landsat, Iran built a facility to obtain remote sensing imagery in Mahdasht 65km west of Tehran. The Iranian Remote Sensing Center (IRSC) established with the responsibility to collect, process, and distribute relevant imagery products to users throughout the country for resource planning and management. Availability of remote sensing data for example assists to identify areas suitable for development and those prone to earthquakes, floods, landslides and other natural disasters and threats, investigate greenhouse gases emission and air pollution in the large urban areas, monitor wetlands and water basins inland and those shared with the neighboring countries and other useful activities for global benefits. For telecommunications and broadcasting as well as other applications the Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telephone, the Iranian Broadcasting Organization, and the Ministry of Science were involved. However, for institutionalizing such the efforts Iranians had to wait by 1st February 2004 when the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) began its activity following the approval of Parliament on 10th December 2003 for establishment of ISA. It is mandated to both cover and support all the activities concerning the peaceful applications of space science and technology under leadership of Iran’s Supreme Space Council (SSC) chaired by the President of I.R. Iran. “We believe this is a long and practical step forward not only towards concentrating our efforts in advancing relevant science and technology in effective use of outer space for peaceful purposes but also to enhance our cooperation at the international level for this very well deserved purpose,” said the President of the date of ISA, H. Shafti on the occasion of ISA’s establishment.
Policy making for the peaceful applications of space technologies, manufacturing, launching and use of national research satellites, approving space related programs of state and private institutions and organizations, promoting the partnership of the private and cooperative sectors in efficient uses of space, and identifying guidelines concerning the regional and international cooperation in space issues and clarifying country’s position to the above-mentioned bodies are the aims that the SSC assigned ISA for implementing them and Council’s strategies.
Promoting the applications of space science and technology for peaceful purposes is both a vital part of Iran’s current plan and very essential part of its strategy. This includes close attention to the important concepts such as public awareness, capacity building, research and exchange of experience simultaneous with the expansion of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in regional and global levels. In addition to Iran’s efforts towards such activities the need to expand national capabilities in application of technology is always felt. This expansion has been recognized in the country’s mid and long-term plans leading to emergence of earth observation and satellite manufacturing industry in Iran. In light of continuous capacity building and development of expert human resources and scientists in recent few decades the practical achievements for manufacturing satellites includes:
- Mesbah (Lantern) micro-satellite that is a store and forward communication satellite basically aimed at know-how in the process of design, assembly and expansion of international cooperation in the space domain. The system is initially intended to obtain images for a variety of civilian purposes, to include larger data collection and distribution, assisting in efforts to find natural resources and predict the weather. Costing US$10 million the project was implemented in cooperation with Italian Carlo Gavazzi Space Company (CGSC). With the dimensions of 70x50x50cm3 the satellite weighs 65kg. It will fly 900km over the land and will be controlled from a ground station located in the Iran Telecommunications Research Center (ITRC), while the back-up station will be operated by the CGSC in Milan, Italy. Mesbah is the first satellite produced in Iran. Research work on project began at the beginning of the President Muhammad Khatami’s administration in 1997. A prototype was constructed during 1999-2001 in cooperation with the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, the Ministry of CIT, the Iranian Research Organization for Science and Technology (IROST) and ITRC. It will cycle the earth 14 times daily while it can be observed from the earth-based stations four times in 24 hours. A 3-year life-time is expected for the satellite however, it would be capable of continuing operation for up to 5 years. It is designed to cover Iran, while will be able to technically render services in Europe and the Americas.
- Sina-1, the first Iranian satellite launched by a Russian Kosmos-3M rocket from Plestesk in Murmansk Province of Russian Federation to the altitude of 700km, is a 160-kg small satellite with the research mission on remote sensing to monitor natural disasters and observe agricultural trends, and communications. It is a sun-synchronous near-polar orbiter with the inclination of 98.18o and period of 98.64 minutes. The US$15 million satellite with the dimensions of 80x130x160cm3 images the earth surface from Arctic to Antarctic with a 50m resolution in panchromatic mode with 50km swath while in multi-spectral scanning (MSS) mode the resolution is 250m with 500km swath. Sina-1 is used to study natural disasters, resources and farmlands and transmits and receives the information on VHF and UHF frequencies.
- Small Multi-Mission Satellite (SMMS) is an international joint venture in cooperation with China and Thailand mainly aimed at disaster and environmental monitoring, civilian remote sensing and communications experiments. It is a medium low-earth orbit sun-synchronous satellite weighing 490kg to fly 650km above Earth. US$ 6.5 million out of US$ 44 million whole cost of the satellite is Iran’s share for manufacturing and launching it. Access to advanced earth observation satellites could greatly help the country, particularly after a natural disaster, since emergency personnel, rescue and control organizations could effectively coordinate relief efforts. The satellite will carry a low-resolution charge-coupled device (CCD) camera and an experimental telecommunications system. Iran contributes to building SMMS’s CCD sensor. Some of the technologies used to develop the device can enhance Iran’s long-term sensor design and manufacturing capabilities.
- Zohreh that stands for Venus in Persian language is the satellite which manufacturing was planned to meet Iran’s telecommunication needs since 1970’s. Although its manufacturing has not yet realized it is still the concern of the Iranian authorities particularly in telecommunications domain to manufacture and launch it to the geo-stationary orbit to provide numerous services to include TV and radio broadcasts, internet, and e-mail access. French, Germany as well as China have been the parties of the different abortive contracts with Iran to make the satellite. Russian Federation is the last of them that has signed a US$132 million contract with Iran for Zohreh’s assembly and launch. Zohreh would have the life-time of 15 years with Ku Band frequency for receiving and transmission with Alcatel and Astrium payload including 12 transponders consisting of 8 units of 36MHz each and 4 units of 72MHz.
Moreover, Pars (Sina-2), Sepehr and ZS4 are also the spacecrafts with research, earth observation and communication missions that Iranian experts are engaged in their development.
In addition to space segment, Iran has been developing throughout the country its ground segments and facilities for communications and data acquisition since long ago. Boomhen, Asadabad and Isfahan are the ground stations established mainly for communication purposes while the old Mahdasht Ground Receiving Station which mission was receiving data from Landsat three decades earlier is being developed to become the Mahdasht Space Center in the near future. The site will comprise of the most comprehensive and multi-task ground space complexes as well as work, living and leisure facilities for the Iran’s space science and technology specialists, scientists and officials. There are also other ground stations established for receiving remote sensing data managed and controlled by the private sector and universities.
“According to the Fourth Five-Year Development Plan of the country [2005-2010] US$422 million is allocated for space science and technology development,” says M. Suleimani, the Minister of CIT. “Space science and technology could lead to facilitate and accelerate communications, saving expenses, time and increasing the efficiency, and forecasting and mitigating damages caused by disasters”, he adds, and continues, “Iranian government in its 10-year plan aims at providing the software and hardware and creating the infrastructure for attaining the capability and capacity in design, manufacturing, test, launch, operationalizing and control of the satellites. Increasing public awareness, training and education of expert human resources, research on new technologies, benefiting the domestic potentials and developing the international cooperation are the strategies of the plan in space domain”.
In recent couple of decades Iran has worked on basic capacity building in space science and technology by developing the education and training in this domain in the graduate and postgraduate levels. There are notable number of leading universities and scientific institutions involved in educating air and space sciences and technologies and its applications such as remote sensing and telecommunications throughout Iran. The country is optimist to the new generation of scientists, experts and educated human resources in space science and technology to play its evolving role in its long-lasting way to benefit space science and technology for the country’s sustainable development and well-being. Public awareness and capacity building in space domain in public level is also high concern for Iran where lots of work is being done by the state-run and private sector to this mean. Celebrating World Space Week is now a fruitful promotional program for ISA that in cooperation with related bodies and organizations takes part for its fulfilling; it is well received by the public particularly youth.
ISA since its establishment has given the highest priority to the international cooperation that is in continuation of country’s policy for active international cooperation in space applications since a decade earlier. In light of this concern ISA succeeded to make its highest contribution and cooperation since its establishment with UN-COPUOS while its representative contributed to the COPUOS Bureau work in the capacity of Second Vice-Chairman and Rapporteur from 2004 to 2006. Contribution to the implementation of 3rd UN International Conference on Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE-III), particularly chairing its Action Team number one focusing on the Development of a Worldwide Comprehensive Strategy for Environmental Monitoring that continues since 2001, and taking part in the endeavor for establishing UN Space-based Platform for Disaster Management (SPIDER) along with the constructive deliberations of the Iranian Delegations to the different space-related issues from technical and scientific concerns to the legal aspects is all the indication of Iran’s interest for actively working in global arena for using space peacefully. The Agency has organized and hosted different workshops and seminars related to space science and technology applications with special emphasize on remote sensing and disaster monitoring and mitigation in cooperation with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UN-OOSA), Inter-Islamic Network on Space Technology (ISNET) and other global and regional organizations and bodies. In regional level Iran actively cooperates with the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and follows the plans and efforts made by its Regional Program on Space Technology Applications (RESAP). Establishing a Center for Informed Space-based Disaster Management and an affiliated research center are closely worked out between ESCAP and Iran in recent few years. Under the initiative of the Multilateral Cooperation on Space Technology Applications in Asia and the Pacific (AP-MCSTA) Iran cooperates for manufacturing the small multi-mission satellite for disaster management. Joining to the Convention of the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) under AP-MCSTA on 28th October 2005 as one of its founders and signatories along with China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Peru is an important step for Iran to enter new era in space activities and will be beneficial for nation in peaceful and beneficial use of space science and technology.
To attain the position that it deserves in the global arena of endeavor for benefiting space and related technologies peacefully and for well-being Iran relies on its human sources as well as expertise and knowledge that is being accumulated continuously in course of enthusiastic efforts for experimenting and experiencing to head to space for peace and prosperity. Entering into space for Iran using an indigenously-developed system would provide it with a notable and unprecedented amount of national pride at the mean time.
Parviz Tarikhi is a space science and technology senior expert based in Iran. With background in Physics he presently heads Microwave Remote Sensing Department of Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station. In course of his cooperation with the United Nations Committee of Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) since 2000, he worked as the Committee Bureau member in the capacity of Second Vice-Chairman and Rapporteur in 2004-06. He has co-chaired the Action Team number one of the Recommendations of UNISPACE-III aiming to “Develop a comprehensive worldwide environmental monitoring strategy” since 2001. From 2004 to 2007 he conducted the Office for Specialized International Affairs of the Iranian Space Agency. He is at the same time a freelance journalist and scientific-technical writer for about two decades. Write to him through his e-mail address at email@example.com .
Iran’s Launch Vehicle Safir, prepared for launching to space
(image credit: Iranian Space Agency)
Mesbah satellite at the lab
(image credit: Iranian Space Agency)
Artistic impression of SMMS satellite
(image credit: AP-MCSTA)
Mahdasht satellite receiving station developing to become a Space Center
(image credit: Iranian Space Agency)
Contribution to and conducting COPUOS sessions
(images credit: UN-OOSA)
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