The giveaway: burn scars that could be seen from the sky. Satellite images taken Wednesday by US-based companies seem to indicate that, for the second time in a month's time, Iran tried to send a satellite into space. In discussing the images with NPR, nonproliferation expert David Schmerler says the "scorch marks" suggest the rocket did make it off the launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center. But he expects it crashed shortly thereafter—mainly based on the fact that there's been no crowing from Iran about it. Physicist Michael Elleman speculates the rocket may have flown for at least 10 seconds, since no crash debris right near the launch pad can be seen.
Iran tried a similar launch in mid-January, using a large rocket known as a Simorgh. Both NPR's experts and analysts who talked to the AP think that this time around it was a smaller Safir rocket. The US has alleged that rocket launches ostensibly made under Iran's space program are really just a front for its development of intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry nukes; Iran says that isn't so. Schmerler doesn't seem a fan of the US theory. "The ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, while they look very similar, are also very different in what they're designed to do." NPR adds that there's a big time investment required to set up the latter, which doesn't make for a good weapon. (Read more Iran stories.)