An Iranian official yesterday published an image of a satellite after an apparent rocket explosion at the Iranian facility meant to launch it, tweeting at US President Donald Trump after the US leader shared what appeared to be a surveillance photograph of the aftermath.
The tweet from Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, including a selfie of him apparently in front of the Nahid-1 satellite, came as Tehran was yet to acknowledge Thursday’s explosion at the Imam Khomeini Space Center.
While specifics about the incident remain unclear, it marked the third failure involving a launch at the center, which has raised suspicions of sabotage in Iran’s space program.
The US has criticized the initiative as a way for Tehran to advance its ballistic missiles.
Trump directly acknowledged those suspicions in his tweet on Friday and denied any US involvement.
“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” Trump wrote, identifying the rocket used. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”
Jahromi, a rising politician in Iran’s Shiite theocracy, responded to Trump in his tweet.
“Me & Nahid I right now, Good Morning Donald Trump!” he wrote in English.
Later, Jahromi accompanied local journalists at the center near Tehran, showing them the satellite.
“I have no idea about the Semnan space center and the defense minister, who is in charge, should make a comment on this,” Jahromi said, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
He did not elaborate.
The Semnan launching center is in a province neighboring the capital, Tehran.
Commercially available satellite images by Planet Labs Inc and Maxar Technologies showed a black plume of smoke rising above a launch pad on Thursday, with what appeared to be the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand.
In previous days, satellite images had shown officials there repainted the launch pad blue.
The photo released on Friday by Trump appeared to be a once-classified surveillance photo from US intelligence agencies.
Analysts said that the black rectangle in the photo’s upper-left-hand corner likely covered up the photo’s classification.
Trump as president can declassify material.
The image showed damaged vehicles around the launch pad, as well as damage done to the rocket’s launcher. It also clearly showed a large phrase written in Farsi on the pad: “National Product, National Power.”
Jahromi in July told reporters that Tehran planned three satellite launches this year, two for satellites that do remote-sensing work and another that handles communications.
The Nahid-1 is reportedly the telecommunications satellite. Nahid in Farsi means “Venus.”
The satellite, which had Iran’s first foldable solar panels, was supposed to enter a low orbit for about two-and-a-half months.
The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Jahromi on Aug. 13 as saying that the Nahid-1 was ready to be delivered to the Iranian Ministry of Defense, signaling a launch date for the satellite likely loomed.
Iran’s National Week of Government, during which Tehran often inaugurates new projects, began on Aug. 24.
The apparent failed rocket launch came after two failed satellite launches of the Payam and Doosti in January and February.
A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
The US alleges that such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, says that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
Tehran also says it has not violated the UN resolution, as it only “called upon” Tehran not to conduct such tests.
The tests have taken on new importance to the US. Tensions have been high between the countries since Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal last year and imposed sanctions.
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