Trump sends Iran 'best wishes' after its rocket explodes on the launchpad in a 'catastrophic' failure

Ryan Pickrell

White House

  • Iran tried to launch a rocket on Thursday, but satellite imagery of the launch showed that the country's latest attempt to put a satellite in orbit ended in failure.

  • The rocket apparently blew up on the launchpad. It was the third failed attempt this year — launches in January and February were both unsuccessful, with something going wrong in flight.

  • On Twitter on Friday, President Donald Trump called the latest failure a "catastrophic accident" and said the US was not involved. "I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened," he said.

  • The US has previously warned Iran against engaging in such activities, expressing concerns that the rocketry required to put a satellite in space could be used to develop long-range ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear warheads.

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Satellite images from Iran's latest rocket launch suggest that the rocket blew up on the launchpad, marking the country's third failed launch this year.

Photos from Thursday's launch provided to NPR by Planet Labs show smoke rising up from the Imam Khomeini Space Center.

"This look likes the space launch vehicle blew up on the launchpad," Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told NPR.

On Friday, Trump posted a peculiar tweet calling it a "catastrophic accident," wishing Iran "best wishes and good luck in determining what happened," and saying the US was not involved.

Despite warnings from the US, Iran has tried on three occasions this year to put a satellite into orbit, but every attempt has ended in failure.

In mid-January, a rocket intended to carry a satellite into space failed to reach the "necessary speed" during the later stages of flight, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi told Iranian state media, per The Associated Press. He did not clarify exactly what went wrong but stressed that Iran would continue its work.

That failed attempt followed multiple warnings from the US urging Iran not to follow through on its plans. The US suspects that the rocketry required to put a satellite in space could be used to develop long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a foreign target.

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Trump has said Iran's space program could help it "pursue intercontinental ballistic missile capability."

Iran conducted another launch in early February. In an interview with NBC News in mid-February, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the attempt ended in failure as well.

Of a New York Times report that the US might be sabotaging the program, Zarif said: "It's quite possible. We don't know yet. We need to look into it very carefully."

Expert observers have expressed skepticism about claims that Iranian satellite launch failures are attributable to a covert US sabotage campaign.

After the second failed test, Schmerler told NPR that it was "trial and error," adding that "eventually they're going to get it right." The latest launch failure suggests that Iran still has a little more work to do to make that happen.

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