Reports a day earlier suggested the launch had been postponed indefinitely.
But Iranian Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said early on February 9 that “the Zafar satellite will be placed in orbit today from Semnan at a speed of 7,400 kilometers,” according to an IRIB news agency report cited by Reuters.
“Beginning countdown to launch #Zafar_Satellite in the next few hours… In the Name of God,” Jahromi later tweeted.
At least two Iranian satellite launches failed last year.
U.S. officials, who have pursued a “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran since Washington exited a major nuclear deal in 2018 that exchanged curbs on Iran’s nuclear program for sanctions relief, have suggested Tehran’s satellite program is part of a program of ballistic-missile development and that the technology could deliver nuclear warheads.
Iran rejects that accusation.
The head of Iran’s national space agency, Morteza Barari, pledged on February 1 that the country would soon launch the Zafar (“Victory” in Farsi) satellite.
He said the 113-kilogram satellite would be carried by a Simorgh rocket 530 kilometers above the Earth and that it would make 15 orbits a day.
On February 8, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for further strengthening of Iran’s defenses, saying that “in order to impede war and put an end to the threats, one has to become strong,” according to Iranian state Press TV.
The supreme leader, who holds the final say on religious and political affairs, meets with senior members of the Iranian air force on February 8 every year to mark key military defections during the country’s 1979 revolution to overthrow the U.S.-backed Shah.
U.S. President Donald Trump ordered at least two aerial attacks on senior Iranian military leaders last month.
In one, an air strike near Baghdad’s international airport killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, along with a senior commander of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia and several other people.
Iran responded with missile strikes on Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops on January 8, reportedly injuring around 64 troops with what was described as “mild traumatic brain injury.”
Iranian forces also shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner after takeoff from Tehran airport while air defenses were on high alert on January 8, killing all 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737.
Tehran has gradually stepped back from its own commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and said earlier this month that it no longer considered itself bound by it.
Last week, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell met with senior Iranian officials including President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran aimed at lowering tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Borrell said in January that he had consulted the countries still in the accord — which also include Russia and China — and that all were determined to save the JCPOA.
Barari, who is chief of the Iranian Space Agency, said manufacturing of the Zafar satellite “began three years ago with the participation of 80 Iranian scientists,” adding that it was designed to remain operational for “more than 18 months.”
He called it “a new step for our country” and said the satellite’s primary mission would be to collect imagery to study earthquakes, prevent natural disasters, and develop agricultural resources.
Iran reportedly hopes to construct five more satellites by March 2021.