The high-res satellite images, captured between January 4 and January 7 by Planet Labs, appear to show activity at the Imam Khomeini Space Center that is consistent with that taken before a 2017 launch, according to researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
This is backed up by reports from several Iranian media outlets about an imminent launch.
Jeffrey Lewis from the Middlebury Institute said that it also indicates that the satellites will be launched by a Simorgh space launch vehicle, which he described as a “two-stage space launch vehicle” that uses a “cluster of four Shahab-3 engines in its first stage and smaller steering engines in its upper stage”.
Analysts have said that the large white shipping container seen outside the site’s assembly and checkout building was likely used to transport the rocket’s first stage; something that would be reassembled on the launch pad.
Lewis said that a similar canister appeared there prior to the 2017 space launch and called it “a strong indication that a rocket has been transported to the site and that a space launch is likely in the coming weeks”.
Other indicators are unusual levels of traffic at the building, including a large vehicle parked at the mobile launch gantry and a fuel truck located on site.
Last week, Pompeo called on Iran to scrap its planned satellite launches, arguing that they would violate the UN Security Council resolution that enshrines the 2015 nuclear deal and suggested that this could well lead to new sanctions if Iran went ahead.
He said: “The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk. We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”
He continued: “Such actions would once again demonstrate Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, which calls upon the Iranian regime not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. This action includes launching SLVs, which incorporate technology that is virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles, including in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).”
Iran, however, claimed that these satellites are for telecommunications, which is ironic considering the Regime’s constant attempts to stop its people from communicating with the outside world during last year’s protests, even going so far as to ban certain websites and slow down the internet speed.
On Sunday, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, said: “We cannot wait for other countries to launch our satellites. It is nonsense that some countries state that Iran should not improve. The ICT Ministry does its best for the promotion of peaceful satellite technology.”
On Tuesday, Pompeo said that the US would redouble its diplomatic and commercial efforts to put “real pressure” on Iran to behave like a “normal nation”, a reference to the 12 conditions that the US gave Iran in May 2018.