Iran launches 'biological capsule' to low Earth orbit

Precursor to crewed flight can reportedly carry animals

Iran on Wednesday launched a "biological capsule" into low Earth orbit – an effort the nation's minister of communications claims is a precursor to crewed flights.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), a state organ, reported that the capsule weighed 500 kilograms, was launched atop a "Salman" rocket, and reached an altitude of 130 kilometers.

Comms minister Isa Zarepour reportedly described the launcher and capsule as having been designed locally to send Iranian astronauts into space.

An older IRNA report foreshadowed the launch and described it as a test flight to assess the many technologies needed to allow crewed flight. The Associated Press reported the capsule is capable of carrying animals – presumably to test life support systems before a human crew sojourns aboard Salman.

Animals, of course, have flown many space missions. Russia sent dogs to space, while several simians have soared. Many other smaller animals have been sent aloft for experimental purposes.

Iran's Salman launcher lifting off with a biological capsule

Iran's Salman launcher lifting off with a biological capsule – Click to enlarge

Debate continues regarding the ethics of subjecting animals to ordeal of spaceflight.

Such argument is likely to be drowned out by discussion of the strategic significance of this launch. Iran is thought to possess medium-range ballistic missiles, and to have placed satellites in orbit. The nation is also known to have worked towards development of nuclear weapons, and to be a resolute opponent of Israel. The Jewish state has in the past attacked Iran to damage its weapons development efforts.

News that Iran can launch 500kg to 130km will therefore likely be of as much interest to military analysts as to admirers of space exploration efforts.

Minister Zarepour has apparently told Iranians to expect more good news about the nation's space program soon, as a long-term plan unfolds. ®

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