Last month Iran unveiled a new long-range missile, the Simorgh, as a follow-on to the Safir SLV. Putatively identified as a space launch vehicle, it bears strong familial ties to the TD-2 prototype SLV/ICBM launched last April (2009). Since then, some analysts have noted that while the airframe has made an appearance sooner than the NIE’s from 2008/2009 suggested, much still remains to be put in place for the program to reach flight test stage. Chief among those items would be a launch site as something of this size requires a much larger complex for support than the Safir.
According to press reports over the weekend, it appears that too is well underway and sooner than many had expected:
Iran is building a new rocket launch site with North Korean assistance, Israel Radio quoted IHS Janeâ€™s as reporting overnight Friday. The new launcher, constructed near an existing rocket base in the Semnan province east of Tehran, is visible in satellite imagery, according to the report. The defense intelligence group said the appearance of the launcher suggests assistance from North Korea, and that it may be intended to launch the Simorgh, a long-range Iranian-made missile unveiled in early February and officially intended to be used as a space-launch vehicle (SLV). SLVâ€™s can be converted to be used as long-range ballistic missiles for military purposes. Both the missile and the launch pad, which according to Janeâ€™s is large enough to accommodate it, point to cooperation from Pyongyang. (Jerusalem Post, 6 March 2010)
Firing up GE, we locate the site fairly quickly:
Zooming in, we note the new launch facility as described in the press:
(note: SPOT imagery taken May 2009)
Jane’s has more recent imagery (ca. 2010), via DigitalGlobe, showing greater progress that was posted this weekend:
Note the progress on the flame bucket and supporting facilities. Clearly, as indicated in a number of articles, there is also North Korean influence/assistance here. Compare with:
But Tae-po dong is a fairly old facility. North Korea is building a new facility on the west coast that incorporates a number of upgrades – and apparently served as the model for the new Semnan facility:
Note the similarity of support facilities and infrastructure (especially the gantry and flame bucket) between the Tong’chang and Semnan facilities.
Southwest of the new complex (east of the original Semnan launch site) is another facility that is under construction. While the purpose is not immediately clear, Jane’s makes note that the “heavily secured nature and restricted access indicate it is a primary element of the newly constructed complex.” Given proximity to launch sites for missiles that are liquid-propelled and dual use (SLV or IR/ICBM) the facilities could be for production of propellant, or for payload support.
East of this location is a series of excavations that could be the basis for an engine test facility:
The extent of work (and it’s level of progress) indicate a devotion of substantial resources dedicated to Iran’s long-range missile effort. It also points to a fundamental problem in the non-proliferation/sanctions approach.
As I’ve highlighted in the past, current non-proliferation regimes simply don’t cut it when the Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans and Chinese are non-participants. Similarly, sanctions, such as they have been, have only imparted a delaying effect. Perhaps with Russia’s come-around to supporting a stronger round of sanctions where Iran’s nuclear program is concerned, that may force Iran to compliance — but given recent history, it doesn’t seem likely.
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