Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station Verging into a Space Center


Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station Verging into a Space Center

October 13, 2008 at 2:10 pm 

Parviz Tarikhi heads the Microwave Remote Sensing Department at the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station. He has been involved with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) since 2000, including as second vice-chair and rapporteur in 2004-06 of the committee bureau. Since 2001 he has co-chaired Action Team number 1 of UNISPACE-III with the mission ‘to develop a comprehensive worldwide environmental monitoring strategy’. From 2004-07 he conducted the Office for Specialized International Co-operation of the Iranian Space Agency. He is also a freelance journalist and technical writer.

Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station that is currently affiliated with the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) and officially entitled Mahdasht Space Center is located approximately 65 kilometers west of Tehran with 42 hectares area. The station established in 1972. The activities and development of the station could be chronicled as below, however it should not be ignored that in each period the driving attitudes and visions of the authorities have influenced its progress and development indeed.

Period of 1972-1978: Launch of the United States Earth Resource Technology Satellite (ERTS-1) -which later became Landsat-1- in 1972 actually raised the attention and real interest in remote sensing technology in Iran and is considered as the start point for such the space related activities in the country. Soon after an office for data collection in the Budget and Planning Organization of the date established. Because of rapid developments and progress in the space technologies and remote sensing in particular, Iran was enthusiastically stepping forward in harmony with the global advancements in this connection. As a result, benefiting the supports from the United States of America (USA) Iran decided to proceed for direct acquisition of satellite data. USA therefore complied Iran’s request and it was agreed that Iran supply data to the 33 countries under coverage of Iran’s receiving antenna to be installed. In 1974 a contract was signed between Iran and General Electric Company of USA for installation and conducting a satellite data receiving station.

At the same time, under the Plan for Satellite Data Applications the remote sensing activities officially continued in the National Radio and Television Organization of Iran of the date. Through a feasibility study for site selection, the current site of the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station at Mahdasht (formerly named Mard Abad) of Karaj was distinguished suitable for establishing the station for direct satellite data receiving. The installation process began in 1976 and two phases including tracking and data acquisition completed and operationalized by 1978 while three full coverage of Landsat satellite data of Iran was acquired and archived by the station. 

According to signed contract between Iran and the US General Electric Company, and based on the global common procedures for satellite data acquisition in USA, Canada and some other countries five phases were planned for set-up in Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station as follows:

  • First Phase, including installation and operationalizing the facilities for tracking the Earth resource satellites and direct data acquisition from those satellites  
  • Second Phase, including installation and operationalizing the facilities for recording and data correction
  • Third Phase, including installation and operationalizing the facilities for analysis and data processing
  • Fourth Phase, including installation and operationalizing the facilities for data management
  • Fifth Phase, including installation and operationalizing the facilities for data printing, proliferation and production

The advent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978 urged rapid quit of the US contractor and suspension of the project implementation following which the management and coordination of the plan was put on Iran.    

Period of 1978-1991: Change in the visions and emerging new managerial attitudes because of the Islamic Revolution in Iran put the plans for development of the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station and continuation of its activities in a long-lasting ambiguity. The experts, engineers and even the mid-rank managers of the station began the efforts for saving it and justifying the top authorities and decision-makers of the importance and necessity for continuation of the work of such the station and the role that remote sensing and other space technologies can play in informed management and control of the resources and available potentials for development of the country. Management of the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station was shifted from the National Radio and Television Organization to the Budget and Planning Organization again. The main and considerable success for the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station in this period that was realized in light of the efforts and work of the experts and engineers of the station is as follows:

·      Operationalizing and conducting the installed facilities for direct data acquisition from meteorological NOAA satellites series

  • Training the experts and technologists of the user organizations and institutes throughout the country for transferring the technology of satellite applications
  • Installation and operationalizing the second, third, fourth and fifth phases of the station for data production and proliferation 

Production and availability of the full coverage of satellite data of Iran acquired and archived by the station provided the possibility for access to the satellite data of Iran for implementing different projects and plans around the country and holding workshops for transferring the knowledge and expertise of satellite data applications.  

Period of 1991-1996: In line with the efforts made by the experts for development of remote sensing technologies throughout the country in the previous period, some commitments officially made for changing the existing situation and transition from the Plan for Satellite Data Applications and further institutionalizing of the remote sensing activities. In 1991 the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IR Iran) passed the law for transferring from the Plan for Satellite Data Applications to the state-run firm of the Iranian Remote Sensing Center (IRSC). According to the approval IRSC became affiliated to the Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telephone (MPTT) of the date. The latter changed to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology according to the approval of the Parliament of IR Iran on 10 December 2003.   

Period of 1996-2002: Approval of the law for changing the Plan for Satellite Data Applications to the state-run firm of IRSC caused some legal problems for IRSC in terms of securing its financial sources and inability for developing its plans and programs. The authorities decided to downsize IRSC and confined the activities of the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station that finally led to suspension of the activity of the station temporarily. However, before the suspension, the activities of the fifth and first phases including data production and proliferation, and direct data acquisition from meteorological satellites continued in its lowest level.     

Period of 2002-date: Administrational and organizational changes in MPTT and its transition to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology followed by the establishment of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) in February 2004. ISA covered officially, according to its establishment law, all the remote sensing activities throughout the country. Consequently the activation of the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station and its revival was highly considered by the authorities. Reconstruction and operationalizing of the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station practically began in 2003. In continuation all the active receiving facilities of ISA in Saadat Abad headquarter in north of Tehran translocated gradually to the Mahdasht Satellite Receiving Station. New specialists as well as staff have been employed. Although the antenna for receiving from Landsat has been abandoned, other facilities for receiving from new generation satellites including TERRA-MODIS, IRS and NOAA continues and the plans for receiving from other satellites is in the way. This all is in line with the plans for concentrating the remote sensing activities of ISA in Mahdasht Station and developing it to become the Mahdasht Space Center in the near future. The site will comprise of the most comprehensive and multi-task ground space complexes, laboratories as well as work, living and leisure facilities for the Iran’s space science and technology specialists, scientists and officials.


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