TEHRAN, Iran: Iran is finishing construction of a new space center that will allow it to soon launch more domestically made satellites into orbit, the country's defense minister said Saturday.
The remarks by Gen. Ahmad Vahidi's were the first confirmation that Iran is building a new space facility amid the standoff with the West over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
The West is concerned the program masks efforts to make atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting it's only for peaceful purposes.
Iran's ambitious space plans have also raised concerns in the West because of their possible military applications--the same rocket technology used to send satellites into orbit can also be retooled to make intercontinental warheads.
Vahidi, in comments carried by the official IRNA news agency, said the first satellite to be launched from the new center will be the Tolo. It will be carried into orbit by the Iranian-made Simorgh light booster rocket, he said.
Vahidi didn't say where the new facility, which has been named after the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is located.
Iran already has a major satellite launch complex near Semnan, 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tehran, and another space center — a satellite monitoring facility — outside Mahdasht, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of the Iranian capital. (AP/TW)