Iran launches 3rd military satellite to orbit

a white rocket launches into a blue sky.
Iranian government footage shows the country's Zoljanah rocket conducting its first suborbital test launch in January 2021. Iran launched the Noor 3 imaging satellite to orbit on Sept. 27, 2023 atop a different rocket, the three-stage Qasem. (Image credit: Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran)

Iran just sent its third military satellite to orbit.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards, a branch of the nation's armed forces, launched the Noor 3 spacecraft atop a three-stage Qasem rocket on Wednesday (Sept. 27), according to state media.

Those reports have been confirmed by the U.S. Space Force, which catalogued two objects — likely the satellite and the rocket's upper stage — in a roughly 280-mile-high (450 kilometers) orbit. 

Related: Iran in space: rockets, satellites & monkeys (photos)

Noor 3 is an imaging satellite, according to Reuters. The spacecraft's two predecessors, Noor 1 and Noor 2, launched in April 2020 and March 2022, respectively, also atop Qased rockets.

Noor 1 fell back to Earth in April 2022, but Noor 2 remains operational — and may work in concert with Noor 3 when the latter satellite comes online.

"Notable that Noor 3 was launched to the *current* altitude of Noor 2, not its original altitude [of about 310 miles, or 500 km]. The two sats are in roughly the same orbital plane, suggesting they may work together. In contrast, Noor 1 was already on its way to reentry when Noor 2 was launched," astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell wrote via X (formerly known as Twitter) on Wednesday.

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The United States and its allies watch Iran's launch activity vigilantly, because rockets that loft satellites are close cousins of missiles that can deliver weapons — including nuclear warheads — long distances. Iran, for its part, claims that its satellite launches are for peaceful purposes only.

Iran is not known to possess nuclear weapons, but it does have enough highly enriched uranium to build a handful of atomic bombs, according to the United Nations.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran since the 1979 revolution, which resulted in the establishment of a theocratic regime. Indeed, the Biden administration imposed a new round of sanctions earlier this month, "targeting multiple people and entities in Iran, Russia, China and Turkey in connection with Tehran's drone and military aircraft development," Reuters wrote.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.