Iran acknowledges satellite launch explosion but criticized Trump for potentially leaking confidential information

NASA | Joel Kowsky

For the first time, Iran has acknowledged that a rocket from its Imam Khomeini Space Center exploded after satellite photos showed the blast last week. However, a spokesperson from the country pointed out the unnecessary reaction coming from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Iran has been in an unfortunate string of bad luck as Thursday’s spacecraft explosion marked the third launch failure from the country’s space agency.

The repetitive failures have raised suspicions of sabotage in Iran’s space program. Ali Rabiei, Iran’s spokesman dismissed this idea, saying that “this has been a technical matter and a technical error. [Iran’s] experts unanimously say so.”

The comments by government spokesman Rabiei were the first explanation offered by Iran regarding Thursday’s explosion. However, the spokesman still has not acknowledged the first two explosions.

Thursday’s blast allegedly follows two failed satellite launches of the Payam and Doosti in January and February. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.

A commercial satellite image showing a fire at a rocket launch site on Thursday at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran.
Source: Maxar Technologies via The New York Times

Previously, satellite images from commercially available sources such as Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies had shown that the Imam Khomeini launch pad was recently painted blue in anticipation of the launch.

Satellite images, later on, showed a black plume of smoke rising above the launch pad, with what appeared to be the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand.

“The explosion happened at the launchpad and no satellite had yet been transferred to the launchpad,” Rabiei said. “It happened at a test site, not at the launch site.”

However, the President quickly went to Twitter to deny any sabotage from the explosion nor involvement, which came as a dismay to Iranian officials.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One,” Trump said on Twitter.

Along with his Tweet was an attached image that showed damaged vehicles around the launch pad, as well as damage to the rocket’s launcher. The high-resolution picture was even complete with annotations pointing to what and where damages took place and launch gantry at Imam Khomeini Space Center.

It also clearly showed a large phrase written in Farsi on the pad: “National Product, National Power.”

In reaction, Rabiei criticized President Trump for tweeting what appeared to be a surveillance photo of the aftermath of the explosion shot by a U.S. spy satellite.

“We don’t understand why the U.S president tweets and posts satellite pictures with excitement. This is not understandable,” he said. “Maybe this is because lack of Iran-related subject that they raise such issues.”

Particularly, some speculate that the photo released Friday by Trump was once a classified surveillance photo from American intelligence agencies. Analysts said the black rectangle in the photo’s upper-left-hand corner likely covered up the photo’s classification.

Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network, said she had “never seen an image this sharp”. I’m not supposed to see stuff this good. He’s not supposed to share it.”

On the other hand, Trump stands by his action and said: “We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do.”

Asked where the photo came from, Trump told reporters at the White House: “You’ll have to figure that one out yourself.”

A high-resolution photo of the Iran launch explosion that Pr4esident Trump uploaded on Twitter.
Source: President Donald Trump | Twitter

While the rocket was lost, Iran’s information and communications technology minister also poked Trump with a tweet of his own, posting a selfie with the Nahid I satellite to show that it survived the blast unscathed.

Nahid 1, in particular, is a spacecraft which Trump alleges to be in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran, on the other hand, has continued to deny the allegation and said that it does not seek nuclear weapons and maintains that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. They also claim that no violation of the U.N. resolution was made because it only “called upon” Tehran not to conduct such tests.

In pubic documents, Nahid-1 is a telecommunication satellite, which authorities plan to have in orbit for two-and-a-half months.

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