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story.lead_photo.caption This Aug. 9, 2019, satellite image from Planet Labs Inc., that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, shows activity at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran's Semnan province. Iran appears to be preparing to attempt another satellite launch after twice failing this year to put one in orbit, despite U.S. accusations that the Islamic Republic's program helps it develop ballistic missiles. (Planet Labs Inc, Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iran appears to be preparing another satellite launch after twice failing this year to put one in orbit.

Satellite images of the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran's Semnan province this month show increased activity at the site, despite U.S. accusations that the Islamic Republic's rocket program helps it develop ballistic missiles.

While Iran routinely only announces such launches after the fact, that activity -- coupled with an official saying a satellite would soon be handed over to the country's Defense Ministry -- suggests the attempt will be coming soon.

"The Imam Khomeini space launch center is usually quite empty," said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. "Now we've seen pictures where you can see activities at this assembly center and something happening at the [launch] pad."

"If you put both together, it sounds very likely there's something that's going to happen," he said.

The satellite images of the space center, taken Aug. 9, show activity at one facility there, Hinz said Sunday. Another image of a launch pad at the facility shows water that's run off it and pooled, likely a sign of workers preparing the site for a launch, he said.

CNN first reported on the satellite images of the space center, some 150 miles southeast of Iran's capital, Tehran.

Iranian satellite launches had been anticipated before the end of the year.

In July, Iran's Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi told The Associated Press that Tehran planned three more launches this year, two for satellites that do remote-sensing work and another that handles communications.

The Nahid-1 is reportedly the telecommunication satellite, which authorities plan to have in orbit for two-and-a-half months. Nahid in Farsi means "Venus."

The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Jahromi on Aug. 13 as saying that the Nahid-1 was ready to be delivered to Iran's Defense Ministry, signaling that a launch date for the satellite was likely imminent. Iran's National Week of Government, during which Tehran often inaugurates new projects, begins Aug. 24.

The launch of the Nahid-1 comes after two failed attempts at getting satellites into orbit in January and February. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.

Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit, and in 2013 it launched a monkey into space.

The U.S. alleges such launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran, which has long said it doesn't seek nuclear weapons, maintains that its satellite launches and rocket tests have no military component. Tehran also says they don't violate the U.N. resolution, as it only "called upon" Tehran not to conduct such tests.

The tests have taken on new importance to the U.S. after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the nation from Iran's nuclear deal more than a year ago.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment Sunday about the apparently forthcoming Iranian launch.

Information for this article was contributed by Amir Vahdat of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/19/2019

Print Headline: Iran preparing satellite launch

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