TEHRAN – Iran plans to send a live monkey into space in the summer, the country's top space official said after the launch of the Rassad-1 (Observation-1) satellite, state television reported Thursday.
"The Kavoshgar-5 rocket will be launched during the month of Mordad [July 23 to August 23] with a 285-kilogram [630-pound] capsule carrying a monkey to an altitude of 120 kilometers [74 miles]," according to Hamid Fazeli, the head of Iran's space organization.
In February, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled a space capsule designed to carry a live monkey into space along with four new prototypes of home-built satellites the country hopes to launch before March 2012.
At the time, Fazeli touted the launch of a large animal into space as the first step toward sending a man into space, which Tehran claims is scheduled for 2020.
Iran sent small animals into space -- a rat, turtles and worms -- aboard its Kavoshgar-3 rocket in 2010.
Fazeli also announced plans for the launch in October of the Fajr reconnaissance satellite, with "a life span of a year and a half and to be placed at an altitude of 400 kilometers," the website reported.
On Wednesday, the Islamic Republic successfully put its Rassad-1 satellite into orbit.
Rassad-1, which orbits the Earth 15 times every 24 hours and has a two-month life cycle, will be used to photograph the planet and transmit images, media reports said.
Originally scheduled to launch in August 2010, the satellite was built by Malek Ashtar University in Tehran, which is linked to the country's elite Revolutionary Guards.
Iran, which first put a satellite into orbit in 2009, has outlined an ambitious space program amid Western concerns.
Western powers fear that Iran's space agenda might be linked to developing a ballistic missile capability that could deliver nuclear warheads, but Tehran has repeatedly denied that its contentious nuclear and scientific programs mask military ambitions.