shahab-3.jpgIran is planning on launching its first satellite early next year. And it's not so the mullahs can catch the Knicks game or HBO Latino.Tehran is planning on using an upgraded version of its ballistic missile, the Shahab-3, to get the satellite into orbit. And this "first Iranian space mission and planned follow-on satellite flights, even if failures, could act as 'technological Trojan Horses' to help Iran develop both range and warhead improvements to [Iran's] already upgraded [missile] program," according to Aviation Week. "In addition, some materials and micro-electronic technologies necessary for Iranian satellite design could be important for the development of tiny, high-quality components needed to produce small nuclear weapons."

An upgraded version of the Shahab-3--flight tested 3-4 times between July and October--already seems to be proving modifications indicative of a vehicle being groomed to carry a nuclear warhead.U.S. Air Force Defense Support Program (DSP) missile warning spacecraft and other U.S. and Israeli assets closely monitored the recent, aggressive Iranian flight tests that flew ranges of 1,500-2,000 km. (930-1,240 mi.).At nearly 60 ft. long, the upgraded Shahab-3 carries about 15% more propellant and has a more bulbous nose (see photo). This indicates a different reentry vehicle design similar to that used on the Russian SS-9 ICBM.The new design appears to be a warhead capable of carrying an avionics unit on separation from the booster--a design that could enable air-burst nuclear weapons fusing during reentry...'Developing [further Shahab upgrades] under the guise of a space launch vehicle could permit Iran to avoid the possible political and economic costs of missile testing,' the Congressional Research Service found in a recent report.
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