TEHRAN, Feb 3 – Iran has launched its first home-built satellite into orbit using a home-grown rocket, in a move that is certain to set alarm bells ringing in the international community.,
"Dear Iranians, your children have put the first indigenous satellite into orbit," a jubilant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast on state television on Tuesday.
"With this launch the Islamic Republic of Iran has officially achieved a presence in space."
The launch — which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution — comes as Iran remains at loggerheads with the international community over its controversial nuclear drive.
The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch a space rocket could be diverted into development of long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Iran vehemently denies the charges, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes and that it has the right to the technology already in the hands of many other nations including its arch foe the United States.
Ahmadinejad has made Iran’s scientific development one of the main themes of his presidency, asserting that the country has reached a peak of progress despite international sanctions and no longer needs to depend on foreign states for help.
"On the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution and with the order of the president, the national Omid (Hope) satellite was launched," the Fars news agency reported.
"This is the first satellite launched in the history of our nation and it was carried by the Safir-2 satellite carrier," it said.
The state news agency IRNA said Omid was launched on Monday evening.
"The satellite is aimed at determining orbital measurements and will circulate Earth 15 times in every 24 hours," the report said. "All parts of Safir-2 and Omid have been made by Iranian scientists."
The launch comes just a day before senior diplomats from six world powers are due to meet in Germany to discuss the Iranian nuclear standoff, with Tehran still defying calls for a freeze on uranium enrichment.
New US President Barack Obama has said he was willing to extend the hand of diplomacy to Iran, after 30 years of severed ties.
Iran sent its first Safir-2 into space in August. The rocket is about 22 metres (72 feet) long, with a diameter of 1.25 metres (a little over four feet) and weighing more than 26 tonnes.
Iran’s most powerful military missile, the Shahab-3, has a diameter of 1.30 metres and measures 17 metres in length. It has a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) — putting arch foe Israel and US forces in the region within reach.
In August when the Safir-2 was launched, media reports had initially claimed that the rocket had carried Omid but this was later denied by officials who said only a test satellite had gone up.
A year ago, Iran triggered concern in the West when it said it had sent a probe into space on the back of a rocket to prepare for a satellite launch, and announced the opening of its space station in a remote western desert.
At that time, officials had said the Omid satellite would be sent into space in May or June. The launch of the probe, Kavoshgar (Explorer), was also timed during the anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
However, Iran’s claims about its military and technological capabilities are often greeted with scepticism by Western experts.
Iran has pursued a space programme for several years, and in October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.