The U.S. military’s second highest official said Wednesday it is too early to say definitively whether Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps successfully launched a military satellite into space, pushing back on an earlier report that the launch had failed.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Air Force General John Hyten, said the rocket “went a very long way” and that he did not yet have the information necessary to say publicly whether the satellite had entered orbit.
“It takes a little while to characterize what goes off into space,” General Hyten told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that he expects to be able to announce the result publicly within a day or so.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it successfully launched the satellite, dubbed the Nour, earlier on Wednesday. The IRGC’s Sepahnews website said the satellite was launched onboard a Qased rocket from a site in Iran’s central desert.
If successful, the Nour would be Iran’s first military satellite in space.
The U.S. has accused Iran of using its space program as cover for developing its military ballistic missile capabilities. Iran failed in February to put another satellite, which Tehran claimed had no military purpose, into orbit.
The Trump administration is engaged in a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s government, accusing the IRGC of exporting missile technology and other weapons to militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen in an ambitious campaign to build regional influence.
The resulting economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy but not halted the military activity of the IRGC or its local partner militias. Washington has supported Israeli military strikes against Iran-linked militias in Syria in a joint effort to hamper Tehran’s ambitions, a senior U.S. official told Congress last year.
The attempted launch of the Nour comes as Washington aims to extend its military reach into space to maintain an advantage over land-based hypersonic ballistic missile systems currently being developed by Russia and China.
“We watch every rocket and missile that comes off the face of the earth,” Hyten said.