TEHERAN, Iran - Iran on Thursday signaled a broadening of its space ambitions by announcing the launch of a new rocket and a test capsule designed to house a monkey, amid Western concerns over its scientific advances.
The Iranian Space Agency launched the Kavoshgar-4 rocket carrying the capsule without fanfare on March 15, the official IRNA news agency said, citing the president's office.
Iran had announced it would conduct the launch before the end of Iranian year on March 21. The space capsule, unveiled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in early February, is designed to carry a live monkey, but there were no living creatures on board, IRNA added.
The launch of a large animal in space has been touted by Iranian officials as the first step toward sending a man into space, which Teheran says is scheduled for 2020.
Iran, which has outlined an ambitious space program in the face of Western concerns, put a satellite into orbit in 2009 with the Safir-2 rocket and sent live small animals - a rat, turtles and worms - into space with its Kavoshgar-3 rocket in 2010.
Western powers fear that Iran's space agenda might be linked to developing a ballistic missile capability that could deliver nuclear warheads. Teheran has denied that its contentious atomic and scientific programs mask military ambitions.
IRNA said the space agency managed to "test the system performance ... the launch platform, engine, electronic and telemetry systems and the system of separation" between the rocket and its load.
Ahmadinejad announced during celebrations marking the 32nd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in February that the capsule would be tested before carrying a monkey into space.
The Kavoshgar-4, also unveiled in February, has been touted as capable of carrying a payload to an altitude of 120 km. IRNA confirmed on Thursday that tests of data and imagery transmission were conducted at this altitude.