Iran's "Sat Launch" No Sure Thing

So Iran's Fars News Agency is paroting Aviation Week's report, that Tehran is about to launch a satellite -- with "the liquid-propellant, 800-1,000-mi. range Shahab 3 missile, or the 1,800-mi. range, solid propellant Ghadar-110," to take the thing into space.shahab-3-launchers.jpgBut take these stories with a big heap of salt, Defense Tech's Iran-watching friends remind us. Because reports coming out of Iran are notoriously fickle. In the fall of '05, the press was full of warnings that Iran was about to launch its 65-76 kilogram Mesbah satellite. The thing never made it off the ground. Instead, using a Russian launcher, Tehran sent its Sinah-1 recon satellite into orbit.Just the other day, the AP shrieked about an Iranian missile that could "evade radar and use multiple warheads to hit several targets simultaneously." Too bad the story was almost certainly B.S.So what about this latest claim? "Count me as being very dubious but not totally disbelieving," says one sage observer. "I wouldn't want to say it's totally impossible, but at best you're talking about a very tiny satellite. The Shahab-3 is a single stage rocket, perhaps a little more than half as heavy as the Redstone" missile that was modified to put the first American itty-bitty satellite into orbit, in the '50s.And that single-stage business is important to keep in mind, notes out pal the Robot Economist. "There is a reason why most [medium-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles] are multi-stagers - they need to drop as much mass during the boost phase in order to maximize their delta-v budgets [the velocity changes needed to get into orbit]. Iran andNorth Korea have generally tried to extend the range of their rockets by increasing the size of their single stagers, because it doesn't require as much R&D and resources.But if the Globalsecurity.org specs are right, the Iranian missile's delta-v is only about half of the 9-10 kilometers/second needed to get into low-earth orbit. "Unless the Iranians have done something amazing to mod up the power of the Shahab-3, which I haven't seen any reliable evidence of, that theoretical satellite is going nowhere," Mr. RE says.And "we thought 'Kremlinology' was hard. Ha!" says one space-spotter. "At least there was Kremlinology," another replies. "I continue to despair that even though we have been grappling with the Mad Mullahs for over a quarter of a century there seems to have been no concerted systematic effort to try to reverse-engineer their operational code."

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