January 29, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Bolsters Missile Capacity With Satellite Launches

January 29, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Bolsters Missile Capacity With Satellite Launches

Latest Developments

Iran announced on January 28 that it successfully launched into space three satellites that use technology similar to that of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The achievement overcomes a history of failed launch attempts using this specific Satellite/Space-Launch Vehicle (SLV) and is raising alarm over Iran’s fast evolving missile capabilities. Iranian state TV reported that the Kayhan-2, Hatef-1, and Mahda satellites will likely be put into low Earth orbit (LEO). To launch the satellites, Iran used the two-stage, liquid-fueled Simorgh (“Phoenix”) SLV rocket developed by Iranian Ministry of Defense (MODAFL) affiliates and overseen by the U.S.-sanctioned Iranian Space Agency (ISA).

Just days earlier, on January 20, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also launched its own Soraya satellite using the all solid-propellant Ghaem-100 SLV. Solid-propellant systems have greater military utility and likely are being used to develop an alternative ICBM-pathway by the Iranian security establishment. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom condemned the launch, citing concern for international security and stability.

Expert Analysis

“The list of threats emerging from the Islamic Republic of Iran in the post-October 7 world continues to grow and can ill afford to be ignored. Tehran is making more progress than ever on its long-range strike capabilities by developing and launching a 3-stage all solid-propellant SLV, ‘the Qaem.’ This launch means Iran is working toward an intercontinental ballistic missile capability in plain sight.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“Iran has gotten a total pass from the West while racing ahead on developing its nuclear-capable ballistic missile delivery capabilities. After these launches, Iran’s missile support for Russia in Ukraine, and Iran-backed attacks that have now resulted in the deaths of three Americans, there are no more excuses. Washington and its European allies must snap back United Nations missile sanctions against Tehran and penalize the regime’s weapons programs.” — Andrea Stricker, FDD Research Fellow and Deputy Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program

U.S. Warns of Nexus Between Iranian Space Program and Military Ambitions

The United States has long warned that Iran’s space program supports ballistic missile capability development. Iran possesses the Middle East’s largest inventory of ballistic missiles and has been “improving the accuracy, lethality, and reliability of its missiles,” according to a 2023 U.S. intelligence report. A U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence report also warned last year that “Iran’s work on space launch vehicles (SLVs)—including its Simorgh—shortens the timeline to an ICBM,” because of the shared technologies within space launch and ballistic missile capabilities.

Washington has maintained that Iranian satellite launches circumvent UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which prohibits Iranian ballistic missile tests or activities capable of delivering nuclear weapons. In October 2023, when associated UN sanctions lapsed, the United States applied new sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs.

Arsenal: Assessing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu

Iran’s Nuclear Program Expands Despite U.S. Sanctions Relief,” FDD Policy Brief

Making Sense Of Iran’s Latest Satellite-Launch Vehicle Test,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu

Iran Space Launch Underscores Patient ICBM Plan,” FDD Policy Brief


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran Sanctions Nonproliferation