Russia will launch Iran’s Khayyam satellite today from a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the result of an initially secret agreement between the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Roscosmos space agency.
The satellite, which Iran claims will be used to monitor environmental changes related to climate change, will be fitted with a high-resolution camera designed by Russia as part of the Kanopus-V system.
The US has said the satellite could be used for military reconnaissance purposes.
High-resolution satellite imagery has traditionally been the preserve of the US, but in recent years, Israel, China, and Britain, as well as a host of commercial private imagery providers, have been able to produce extremely clear images from space.
The US government limits commercial providers of satellite imagery to provide a resolution of 30 centimeters per pixel under 2014 legislation and requires companies to clear imagery released to the public before it can go on sale.
That is about as good as the sharpest images provided by Google Earth, but commercial providers can offer more recent images of specific areas.
Classified US government satellite spy programs are thought to be able to produce much clearer imagery — less than 10 centimeters per pixel.
That has significant reconnaissance potential, enabling military planners to clearly see enemy troop, air, or naval deployments, as well as identify specific vehicles or attempts to hide facilities through the use of bunkers and camouflage — something that is next to impossible with lower-resolution imagery.
As a consequence, the US has said that Iran could use the satellite to assist Russian reconnaissance efforts in Ukraine. The US is also widely thought to be supplying Ukraine with satellite intelligence for its war effort.
But the Iranian Space Agency said on Sunday that Tehran would control the Khayyam satellite “from day one.”
“No third country is able to access the information” sent by satellite due to its “encrypted algorithm”, it said.
The purpose of Khayyam is to “monitor the country’s borders,” enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, the space agency said.
Khayyam is being taken into orbit by a Soyuz-2.1b rocket, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said last week.