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Iran launches military satellite into space amid US tensions

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A handout picture released by Iran's Defence Ministry on February 9, 2020, shows the Zafar rocket, Persian for Victory, ahead of launch in February 2020
A handout picture released by Iran's Defence Ministry on February 9, 2020, shows the Zafar rocket, Persian for Victory, ahead of launch in February 2020   -   Copyright  AFP/IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY
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Iran has launched a military satellite into orbit in a move that is likely to heighten tensions with the U.S. over the country's nuclear programme.

In a statement on its website, Iran's Revolutionary Guard said that the launch took place from the country's central desert and that the satellite had reached an orbit of 425 km above the Earth's surface.

The satellite has been called 'Noor' - meaning 'light' - and the IRG used a Ghasad satellite carrier to launch it into space, a system that was previously unknown, AP reported.

The U.S. State Department and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the launch comes amid tensions with Washington after the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal and after a U.S. drone strike killed Guard General Qassem Soleimani in January.

Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at LeBeck International, told Euronews that the launch was a significant breakthrough for Iran given failed attempts as recently as last February.

"Washington is likely to watch this development closely: Iran’s space program is closely related to its missile and nuclear ones. If Iran is capable of launching heavy military satellites, it may be able to also mount nuclear warheads on intercontinental missiles.

"I think this sends a clear message and is part of Iran’s effort to pressure both Washington and the Europeans after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA."

On Sunday, the Guard acknowledged it had a tense encounter with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf last week, but alleged without offering evidence that American forces sparked the incident.