A rocket at an Iranian space center that was to conduct a satellite launch criticized by the US apparently exploded on its launch pad Thursday, satellite images show, suggesting the Islamic Republic suffered its third failed launch this year alone. State media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the incident at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran's Semnan province, the AP reports. However, satellite images by Planet Labs Inc. showed a black plume of smoke rising above a launch pad there, with what appeared to be the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand. In previous days, satellite images had shown officials there repainted the launch pad blue. On Thursday morning, half of that paint apparently had been burned away.
"Whatever happened there, it blew up and you're looking at the smoldering remains of what used to be there," said David Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Schmerler told the AP that the images of the space center suggested that the rocket either exploded during ignition or possibly briefly lifted off before crashing back down on the pad. Water runoff from the pad, likely from trying to extinguish the blaze, could be seen along with a host of vehicles parked nearby. Iranian satellite launches had been anticipated before the end of the year. The apparent attempt to launch the Nahid-1 comes after two failed satellite launches of the Payam and Doosti in January and February. The US alleges Iran's satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
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