Iran says test rocket transmits data from orbit

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A rocket Iran launched into orbit this month to prepare for putting a domestically made research satellite into space has successfully sent scientific data back to Earth, state media reported on Sunday.

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Iran, embroiled in a standoff with the West over Tehran’s disputed nuclear ambitions, sparked international concern on February 4 by conducting the test of a rocket designed to carry a satellite into space within months.

“Iran’s recently launched research rocket has successfully transmitted scientific data back to the country,” state television said, adding the rocket sent the information after reaching orbit.

The technology used to put satellites into space could also be used for launching weapons, analysts say, and both the United States and Russia have expressed concern about the rocket test.

Washington reacted by saying Tehran’s missile-testing was unfortunate. Moscow said the launch raised the suspicion Iran was seeking nuclear weapons, an allegation that Tehran denies.

France said the rocket was in fact a missile that cannot navigate in space, adding to concerns that the technology is aimed at making weapons.

Iranian officials have dismissed such concerns, stressing the satellite project’s research focus without giving details.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week said Iran would carry out two more rocket tests to prepare for the real launch, which he said was expected in a few months.

The West fears Tehran is covertly trying to obtain nuclear bombs. Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, says it needs nuclear energy to meet booming electricity demand.

World powers including the United States, France and Russia are negotiating a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran for failing to heed demands to suspend sensitive technology such as uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, bombs.

Iran launched its first satellite, Sina-1, into orbit from a Russian rocket in 2005.

Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mary Gabriel