Iran rocket explodes launchpad
Washington CNN  — 

An Iranian rocket exploded Thursday on the launch pad at the Khomeini Space Center in Iran, according to a US official familiar with an assessment of the incident.

The US has assessed the explosion most likely occurred during fueling operations, the official said.

A commercial satellite image taken on Thursday showed smoke rising from the launch pad.

The image was provided to CNN by Planet Labs Inc. and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“Today’s image shows that they attempted to launch a satellite from their smaller launch pad, and that it failed,” Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute told CNN.

Schmerler added that Iran may make another attempt, “there is also activity at their larger launch pad, so Iran may try to launch the other satellite in the near future.”

NPR first published the images from Planet Labs.

The US has been closely following activity at the launch site, which the Iranians claim would put a peaceful satellite into orbit, but that the US sees as furthering Tehran’s missile development, multiple US officials tell CNN.

The space program utilizes the same technology that would be needed to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Iranian missile launches are not barred under the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran signed with the US, Russia, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and European Union. Iran is still largely, but not completely, adhering to the deal, which the US left in May 2018.

Several US defense and intelligence officials have told CNN that Iran is improving the range and accuracy of all its missiles and that has sparked concern that US allies and American troops in the region could be targeted by Iranian missiles in the event of a conflict with Tehran.

In recent months the US military has deployed additional missile defense capabilities to the Middle East, including Patriot missile systems, moves the US says are a response to an increased threat from Iran and its regions proxies.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have regularly fired missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia, missiles the US says have been clandestinely supplied by Iran’s government.