Chabahar Shuffle

This is a guest post with my colleague Jim Lamson. Jim is a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation StudiesEnsuing reports on this site will be published as construction activity continues.

Based on Iranian graphics and a recent Tweet by “Ersin,” CNS experts were able to identify the likely site of Iran’s new national space launch base near Chabahar—including a probable assembly building and a possible launch pad—in the extreme southeastern part of the country. Chabahar will be Iran’s third space launch base, after the Defense Ministry’s Imam Khomeini Space Base near Semnan and the IRGC’s Imam Reza Space Base near Shahroud.

The Iranian Defense Ministry’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO) is constructing the new space launch base in Chabahar under the management of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA). The site has been reported as the Chabahar National Launch Base (payegah-e partab-e melli-e Chabahar) and the Chabahar Space Launch Base (payegah-e partab-e fazai-e Chabahar). Fourteen years after it first stated its intentions to build the base, Iran is now planning its first space launch from the base in the coming months.

The Chabahar base is poised to become Iran’s most important space launch site to support Iran’s ambitious future space goals. According to Iranian officials, Chabahar—referred to as “Iran’s Baikonur” by one Iranian press report—will be used to launch satellites to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) and geostationary orbit (GEO) using solid- and liquid-propellant space launch vehicles (SLVs). Iran may also aim to use the base to launch heavier payloads—1,000 kg or more—to low-earth orbit (LEO). In addition, Iran will also reportedly use the base to launch sounding rockets as part of Iran’s “humans-to-space” (ensan be faza) program to eventually launch Iranian astronauts into space.

The exact layout of the base remains unclear, but reportedly will be quite extensive. Reports vary about its overall size—one report claimed it will take up an area of 14,000 hectares (140 square km), while another report stated 25 square km. An Iranian study, a mockup of the site displayed by the AIO, and Iranian statements suggest the base will have three launch pads—one for solid-propellant SLVs and two for liquid-propellant SLVs. Also, the base will reportedly include a deep-water harbor with loading facilities and a capability to berth ocean-going vessels.

Short History of the Chabahar Base

In 2010, Iran announced that due to the geographical constraints of the Imam Khomeini Space Base near Semnan, it had begun studies for the construction of a second national space base in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan that would serve as the main location for future Iranian space missions. According to Iranian officials, the main reasons for constructing the base at Chabahar are the site’s optimal geographical position near the equator for space launches to SSO and GEO, its proximity to the Indian Ocean for safe launch corridors, and the region’s small population.

In 2013, the ISA announced that the preliminary conceptual design of the base had begun and that the land acquisition for the site had been finalized. Iran would use the base for SLV launches to SSO and GEO and also for manned missions to space, and the first phase of the base was to be operational by 1395 (March 2016-March 2017). Like many of its other stated goals, Iran clearly had overly ambitious plans for the site’s construction. As of 2013, it planned to launch the yet-to-be-developed IranSat-2 communications satellite on the yet-to-be-developed Sarir SLV to GEO orbit in 1396 (March 2017-March 2018) and the IranSat-3 in 1397 (March 2018-March 2019)—two goals that were clearly not met. Later, in 2015, Iranian Space Research Center (ISRC) head Hassan Haddadpour said that the design and implementation of the first phase of the Chabahar launch site was to be completed by 1404 (March 2025-March 2026). However, progress on the Chabahar site apparently stalled during the mid-2010s. In 2017, a Defense Ministry official stated that although the site’s final location had been selected, there was a lack of progress in construction due to inadequate funding and the lack of necessary infrastructure in the region to support construction.

In 2020, ISA director Morteza Barari said that studies and large-scale designs were completed for the base. According to a 2020 Iranian journal article on the conceptual design of the Chabahar space base (see below)—it is unclear if this represented an official design—the base would include three separate launch pads, along with various support facilities for satellite, spacecraft, and SLV preparation, assembly, and checkout; a launch control center; an airport; and a residential complex.

Here’s the notional layout from the article, which does not appear to be similar to the initial construction that has been identified:

In September 2020, Ahmad Ali Mohebati, governor of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province—where Chabahar is located—met with ISA director Barari and AIO Space Group director Sayyed Ahmad Hosseini-Munes to discuss the status of the Chabahar base. Mohebati stated his satisfaction with the base construction plan, that the necessary measures and coordination would be implemented, and that his province would cooperate to solve any problems when the project started. He claimed that the required infrastructure would be done soon with the completion of projects such as railways, Chabahar airport, electricity, water, and gas. He also said the province was ready to support any required facilities for the Chabahar base, including a port, desalination plant, power plant, or other facilities. Mohebati noted that due to the designated location and sensitivity of the base, it would be “monitored” (probably by foreign countries) and that Iran needed to consider security and passive defense issues for the base. (This may explain, in part, why the base construction we have seen thus far is inland and behind mountainous terrain.)

November 2021 Supreme Space Council Meeting and Chabahar Mockup

With the inauguration of President Ebrahim Raisi in mid-2021, progress on the base appeared to accelerate. In November 2021, President Raisi chaired the first meeting of the Supreme Space Council (SSC) of his presidency, where he made construction of the Chabahar base a high priority and ordered a start of the design and construction of the base. Raisi also visited an Iranian space exhibition, where the AIO’s Space Group displayed a mockup of what was most likely a basic conceptual design of the Chabahar base (see below). The mockup base—located on the water—included three or four launch pads and what appear to be cryogenic propellant storage tanks.

Three Phases of Construction Planned

According to Iranian officials, the construction and operation of the Chabahar base are being implemented in three main phases:

  • Phase 1 (current phase): Construction of the necessary infrastructure to conduct launches of solid-propellant SLVs. Iran plans to have the first phase ready for operations in 1403 (March 2024-March 2025), including completion of an assembly building and launch pad. With the completion of the first phase, Iran plans to launch satellites using solid-propellant SLVs to SSO. These launches probably will include the AIO’s Zoljanah SLV and possibly the IRGC’s Ghaem family SLVs. For example, in 2021, then ISA director Morteza Barari claimed that Iran planned to launch the “Pars Plus” remote sensing satellite from Chabahar using the Zoljanah SLV.
  • Phase 2: Construction of facilities to support launches of liquid-propellant SLVs.
  • Phase 3: Construction of facilities to support launches of “super-heavy” liquid-propellant SLVs.

In 2020, ISA director Morteza Barari stated that Iran planned to launch the yet-to-be-developed Sarir and Soroush liquid-propellant SLVs from Chabahar. Judging from their reported design characteristics, the Sarir SLV might be part of phase 2 and the larger Soroush-1 and Soroush-2 SLVs—the latter of which will reportedly use cryogenic liquid propellants—might be part of phase 3.

Recent Statements by Iranian Officials, 2022-2024

Various statements by Iranian officials since 2022 have provided hints about the plans and progress of the base.

According to ISA director Salarieh, “activation” of the base started in Esfand 1400 (February/March 2022) and the project had entered the construction phase. In June 2022, Salarieh stated that the study and design phase for the construction contract of the Chabahar national launch base had been completed, and that Iran was now seriously planning to inaugurate the base.

In February 2023, ISA spokesperson Hossein Dalirian posted a video about Iran’s space achievements in the past year. The video included a graphic (see below) showing a large area east of the city of Chabahar with the following text: “Shahrivar 1401 [August/September 2022]: Start of construction operations of the Chabahar space base, the largest satellite launch base in western Asia.” (This is indeed the area where construction activity is underway.)

Also in February 2023, Sayyed Ahmad Hosseini-Munes, the spokesperson of the Defense Ministry’s Space Group, stated that the first steps had been taken to develop the base, that contracts for its construction and development were concluded and its designs were completed, and the first steps were taken to develop the base. That same month, Iranian communications minister Isa Zarepour stated that the point-finding (noghteh-yabi) and territorial surveying (amayesh-e sar-zamini) activities to establish the base had been completed and the final location was selected.

In May 2023, deputy defense minister Sayyed Mehdi Farahi stated that, with the order of President Raisi and the support of the Communications Ministry, the Chabahar base was being operationalized with the three-way support of the Defense Ministry, the IRGC Aerospace Force, and the Communications Ministry. (This would suggest that the IRGC will also launch its SLVs from the site, in addition to the Defense Ministry’s SLVs.)

In February 2024, Salarieh stated that construction work for the first phase of the launch pad had begun, and that Iran would conduct launches to SSO using solid-propellant SLVs from the base in 1403 (March 2024-March 2025). Salarieh showed a graphic (see below) that stated: “Mehr 1402 [September/October 2023]: Implementation of phase 1 construction operations, launch pad and assembly hangar and start of phase two of national base for space launches.”

In April 2024, Salarieh repeated his claim that in 1403 (March 2024-March 2025), the first phase of the Chabahar launch pad—for solid-propellant SLVs—would be put into operation, and Iran planned to conduct the first launch of a satellite to SSO.

Imagery Analysis of Construction and Current Status

Following claims in social media in recent years that the base was in different areas around the city of Chabahar, CNS experts successfully identified the construction site located about 65 km southeast of Chabahar.

On April 23rd, 2024, the twitter account of “Ersin” (@var_ya_da_yok) utilized satellite imagery from the European Union’s Copernicus program to monitor large swaths of land for changes to try and identify the location of construction of the new space center. After reviewing the location identified, CNS utilized Planet Labs and Maxar satellite imagery to review and confirm the general identification, with further clarification as to the location of both the probable assembly hangar and possible launch pad.

Construction activity at the probable assembly building’s location appears to have occurred in two phases, with imagery of activity occurring first around February 25th, 2023, with the clearing of its current location for preconstruction excavations, then moving to the construction of the foundation and structure itself commencing sometime in June of that year.

A possible new launch pad complex, located 1.4 km to the southeast of the assembly hangar, is currently under construction as well. Construction of the new launch pad began sometime during the middle to end of July 2023, with what appear to be early signs of excavation of the launch pad’s flame trench. 

This initial phase of construction is noticeably different from both the 2020 conceptual design and the diagram presented in November 2021, with the launch complex being located further away from the coastline, nestled behind a large ridgeline. While there is additional construction activity occurring near the coastline, that activity is still in its early phases, with the only identifiable structures potentially resembling buildings that would house administrative or technical control/monitoring activities. This does not mean, however, that the new launch center will be limited to the current launch site being constructed, and could be expanded both northwards and towards the sea (as reflected in the 2021 diagram) in the future.

Additionally, construction activity was identified to the northeast (25.167273 61.287770), connected by road to the assessed assembly building and launch pad; the construction of this site, starting in approximately October 2023, would be roughly consistent with the Iranian claim that phase 2 construction had begun in September/October 2023.


It will be interesting to see how Iran’s construction of the base progresses in the coming months, especially the probable assembly building and possible launch pad identified above. It is unclear which solid-propellant SLV(s) Iran will use to conduct launches from the base, but they probably will include the AIO’s Zoljanah SLV—which has two solid-propellant stages—and possibly the IRGC’s Ghaem family SLVs.

We may also see launches from the initial site related to Iran’s parallel “humans-to-space” program, including launches of sounding rockets and developmental space capsules. In the coming year, we expect to see initial work to develop the liquid-propellant SLV-related facilities of the base that are to be part of the project’s phase 2. Iran still has a long way to go to use the base to launch satellites to GEO and astronauts into space, but it will be interesting to watch how Iran attempts to make progress towards these ambitious goals in the coming years.

Until Chabahar is fully operational, Iran will probably continue to use its Semnan (AIO) and Shahroud (IRGC) space launch sites for SLV and sounding rocket launches. Also, these two sites may continue to play a role indefinitely in Iran’s development of new SLVs, including SLV propulsion testing and suborbital test launches.