Military Spy Satellite Targeting Iran Crashes To Earth After Catastrophic Failure
A military spy satellite has come crashing down to earth after the failure of its launch rocket, sending the expensive payload into the Atlantic. The UAE-owned satellite was intended for dual-use, meaning both military and civilian reconnaissance applications—and on the military side, a UAE satellite would have been charged with monitoring Iran.
For the UAE, monitoring Iranian movements in the Gulf is critical to national security. Iran views the UAE as part of the axis lined up against it, alongside the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia. In losing its latest satellite, the UAE has lost a major surveillance advantage in the region.
The European Vega rocket had been launched from French Guiana on Wednesday evening (July 10) to put the Falcon Eye 1 spy satellite into orbit—with an identical satellite due to launch soon. But two minutes after take-off, the mission suffered a catastrophic failure.
The Falcon Eye satellites fall under the operational remit of Abu Dhabi’s Space Reconnaissance Centre (SRC), and were “expected to add enormous potential once in orbit at an altitude of 611km to provide the center with hundreds of high-resolution images on a daily basis.”
The Airbus-developed satellites include Thales optics, which are capable of earth resolution down to 70 centimeters. Local media heralded the satellites’ potential to provide a new capability to the military and represent the most advanced optics to have state-of-the-art capabilities in Surveillance, Intelligence, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance.”
Clearly, Falcon Eye 1 was destroyed in the accident.
According to Space Flight Now, the French operator behind the launch, Arianespace, announced that a failure “resulting in a loss of mission,” had occurred at “around the time of ignition of the Vega rocket’s solid-fueled Zefiro 23-second stage.”
The company’s spokesperson, Luce Fabreguettes, went on to apologize on behalf of Arianespace ”to our customers for the loss of their payload.”
This was the third attempt to launch this particular mission, with two previous attempts earlier in the month called off due to adverse weather conditions. The Vega launcher has been operating since 2012 and has completed 14 successful missions.
According to Space Flight Now, Arianespace’s next mission—due in September—is uncertain. “The Ariane 5 is set to launch with the Intelsat 39 communications satellite and the EDRS-C spacecraft, the first dedicated satellite for the European Data Relay System developed by Airbus and the European Space Agency.”
The launch of Falcon 1 had been delayed by the need to satisfy U.S. ITAR restrictions, which impacted the bilateral agreement between France and UAE over the $1 billion program. The deployment of advanced surveillance capabilities by the UAE will raise awareness of the level of military sophistication being deployed in the region as tensions continue to rise.
The UAE considers itself the regional leader in space programs and was behind the creation of the Arab Space Cooperation Group, which comprises UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan and Kuwait. Of the group, Saudi Arabia also has increasing aspirations in the field but is much less open about what it is doing.
There has been no comment yet from Abu Dhabi’s Space Reconnaissance Centre (SRC) on the failed mission. Despite speculation about the cybersecurity vulnerabilities of space assets, and the increasing offensive cyber capabilities being exercised by Iran, there has been no speculation yet that this launch failure was attributed to offensive cyber action or more general sabotage.