Iran appears to be readying for a space launch as satellite images show a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear program.
The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran's rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.
One set of images on Tuesday showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower. A later image on Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket apparently on the tower.
Iran did not acknowledge a forthcoming launch at the spaceport.
However, its state-run IRNA news agency in May said that Iran likely would have seven homemade satellites ready for launch by the end of the Persian calendar year in March 2023.
A defence ministry official also recently suggested Iran soon could test its new solid-fuelled, satellite-carrying rocket called the Zuljanah.
It was not clear when the launch would take place, though erecting a rocket typically means a launch is imminent.
Asked about the preparations, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the US urged Iran to de-escalate the situation.
"Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions. It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions," Price said.
During the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
The United States has alleged that Iran's satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran's likely preparations for a launch come as tensions have been heightened in recent days over Tehran's nuclear program.
Iran says it will remove 27 IAEA surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites as it now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
Both Iran and the US insist they are willing to re-enter Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw the Islamic Republic drastically curb its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018.
Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on a "pause" since March.
Australian Associated Press
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.