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Iran claims successful launch of rocket capable of carrying monkey into space


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during the unveiling ceremony of new satellite rocket in Tehran on February 3, 2010.


Rohollah Vahdati

Iran says it has successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying animals into orbit as it presses ahead with a space program that Western powers fear could be used to develop nuclear missile capability.

The Kavoshgar-4 rocket, designed to carry a monkey, was launched on March 15, the country's official IRNA news agency reported Thursday, according to AFP. The capsule, which was empty, reached an orbit of 75 miles, The Associated Press said.

The Iranian Space Agency managed to "test the system performance ... the launch platform, engine, electronic and telemetry systems and the system of separation" between the rocket and its load, IRNA said as reported by AFP.

Last February Iran claimed it had successfully sent a capsule containing small animals into orbit. The launch of the Kavoshgar-3, carrying a rodent, two turtles and some worms, was called a "provocative act" by the White House.

The U.S. State Department has expressed "grave concerns" over Iran's space plans, fearing the technology could be used for surveillance or to bolster efforts to develop long-range missiles capable of reaching Israeli and European targets.

There are fears the space technology could be used in tandem with Iran's controversial uranium enrichment program to develop ballistic nuclear weapons.

Iran insists both its space and nuclear ambitions are peaceful and aimed at improving communications technology and generating energy.

-- Barry Neild