Russia launches Iranian satellite into space amid Western concerns

MOSCOW (Reuters): A Russian rocket carrying an Iranian satellite was successfully launched into space on Tuesday as Moscow and Tehran seek to build closer ties in the face of Western sanctions.

The remote sensing satellite called “Khayyam” was launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the main base for Russian space launches located in southern Kazakhstan, at 8:52 a.m. Moscow time (5:52 a.m. GMT) on Tuesday, according to a video broadcast by Russia’s Roscosmos space agency on YouTube.

Tehran has rejected claims the satellite could be used by Moscow to boost its intelligence capabilities in Ukraine, saying Iran will have full control and operation over it “from day one.”

The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. officials are concerned by the fledgling space cooperation between Russia and Iran, fearing the satellite will not only help Russia in Ukraine but also provide Iran “unprecedented capabilities” to monitor potential military targets in Israel and the wider Middle East.

Iran says the satellite is designed for scientific research, including radiation and environmental monitoring for agricultural purposes.

Russia has sought to deepen its ties with Iran since Feb. 24, when the Kremlin ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine.

In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran on his first international trip outside the former Soviet Union since the start of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

While there, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Putin that Tehran and Moscow needed to stay vigilant against “Western deception.”

Space has been one field where the United States and Russia have traditionally maintained cooperation and strong ties despite geopolitical tensions between Moscow and Washington.

Roscosmos and NASA recently inked a deal to carry each other’s astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), but Moscow has hinted at forgoing the ISS at some stage in the future.

Putin recently removed the outspoken Dmitry Rogozin as head of Roscosmos, replacing him with a former defense advisor in a shake-up of the agency.