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Monday, March 8, 2010    

Iran building potential ICBM launch facility with help from North Korea

LONDON — Iran is said to have been constructing a new rocket launch facility that could later accommodate an intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead.   

Iran's new launch site is 4 km northeast of the existing facility at Semnan.     IHS Jane's imagery by DigitalGlobe
IHS Jane's reported that Iran was building a launch site with help from North Korea. Jane's said the launcher was detected by commercial remote-sensing satellites in the Semnan province east of Teheran.

"It [rocket launch facility] contains a gantry tower, which is 13 meters wide, approximately 18-20 meters tall and has a cliff-side flame bucket nearly as high as the tower itself," Jane's said on March 5. "It appears midway towards completion."

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Jane's, citing satellite images taken on Feb. 6, 2010, said the Iranian facility could be used for Teheran's new Simorgh space-launch vehicle. Simorgh, believed to be a liquid-fuel rocket, was unveiled in February.

"Although the tower is not yet tall enough to facilitate vertical assembly of the 27-meter Simorgh, the launch pad could easily accommodate Iran's new rocket if the gantry were to be extended by an additional 10 meters," Jane's said.

Simorgh has been deemed a technological breakthrough by some Western analysts. They said Simorgh could be transformed into an intercontinental ballistic missile that could contain a nuclear warhead.

Jane's said the development of the Semnan facility and Simorgh reflect North Korean assistance to Teheran's missile program. The platforms were said to resemble those at North Korea's new launch pad at Tongchang.

"Similarly, the first stage of the Simorgh strongly resembles the North Korean Unha-2, with four clustered engines and nearly the same dimensions," Jane's said.

Another Iranian missile facility was detected 2.5 kilometers southwest of Semnan. Jane's said Iranian authorities have deployed heavy security around the second site, still in the early stages of construction.

"IHS Jane’s concludes that, given these investments in its missile infrastructure, and despite the United States attempting to garner support for further sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, Teheran appears determined to continue developing its missile and rocket capabilities in the foreseeable future," Jane's said.

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