It seems Iran is going to launch a satellite into orbit soon, but the question is when.
As I noted recently, Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan told the Majlis that Iran would conduct a space launch during the festivities to mark Iran’s revolution, running from 1-11 February.
However, other Iranian officials have suggested that Iran would merely show off new toys during the festivities, holding off the launch until after Nowruz, aka the Iranian new year (March 20).
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On 3 February, National Space Day, Iran’s President marked several achievements and showed off a new 50-kilogram satellite. That mass is interesting.
Next up is, according, the display of a Simorgh tomorrow on 11 February. We’ve seen the Simorgh before — most recently in August — but perhaps we might be surprised. The Simorgh is designed to put a small payload, usually listed as 60 kg, in a 500 km orbit. In other words, perfect to launch Friendship.
So when will the thing actually launch?
While the most recent statement indicates a launch sometime after Nowruz, Iran has now issued a pair of Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) for the Imam Khomeini Space Center near Semnan for 16-18 February. (Iran is also maintaining a NOTAM over the pads near Shahroud, but these don’t look like a launch.)
Here are the two over Semnan:
A0335/16 - OID90 ACTIVATED,REF AIP PAGE ENR 5.1.3-9, DURING ACT AWY R794 BTN DHN VOR/DME AND TBS VOR/DME AND AWY Z4 BTN ANK VOR/DME AND RABER CLSD. GND - 30000 FT AMSL, FEB 16 TO 18 /0330-1430, 16 FEB 03:30 2016 UNTIL 18 FEB 14:30 2016. CREATED: 03 FEB 07:10 2016
A0319/16 - OID51 ACTIVATED,REF AIP PAGE ENR 5.1.3-5. DRG ACT MNM SAFE LEVEL ON AWY B411 BTN DHN VOR/DME TO GIBAB AND AWY R794 BTN DHN VOR/DME AND TBS VOR/DME RAISED TO FL 260. GND - 25000FT AMSL, FEB 14 TO 18/0530-1330, 14 FEB 05:30 2016 UNTIL 18 FEB 13:30 2016. CREATED: 01 FEB 06:20 2016
One caution — the closure seems to be only to 30,000 feet, which would seem to be insufficient for a launch. Otherwise, A0335/16 is identical to the NOTAM that preceded the February 2015 launch, convenient because the NOTAM that Alex Kynard examined as to his handy explainer on the topic.
Melissa made a nice map of the NOTAMS, which helps illustrate why the NOTAM looks like a launch.
Will Iran actually launch during this window? Who knows! As Tal Inbar has noted, NOTAMs are cheap. As we saw before the North Korean launch, they were ready earlier than expected and just issued a NOTAM. Or Iran could simply let the NOTAM expire without doing anything.
On balance, it looks like Iran is moving toward using the Simorgh to launch a friendship satellite, possibly between 16-18 February.