Iran acknowledged Wednesday it plans two tests for its new solid-fueled rocket after satellite photos showed preparations at a desert launch pad previously used in the program.
Iran will launch its satellite-carrying Zuljanah rocket twice more after conducting a previous launch, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini as saying. He did not elaborate on a timeframe for the tests, nor said when the previous launch occurred.
Each of the Zuljanah's three stages will be evaluated during the tests, Hosseini said.
Satellite images taken Tuesday by Maxar Technologies showed preparations at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit, The Associated Press reported.
One set of images showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower. A later image Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket apparently on the tower.
Though it isn't clear when the launch will take place, erecting a rocket typically means a launch is imminent. NASA fire satellites, which detect flashes of light from space, did not immediately see any activity over the site late Tuesday night into Wednesday.
Asked about the preparations, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the US urges Iran to de-escalate the situation.
“Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions. It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions,” Price said.
A Pentagon spokesman, US Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, said the American military “will continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile program.”
“Iranian aggression, to include the demonstrated threat posed by its various missile programs, continues to be a top concern for our forces in the region,” Lodewick said.