Iran acknowledged for the first time Monday that an explosion had occurred at a satellite launch site in the country’s north after images of the aftermath of the blast circulated last week.
An Iranian government official said the explosion was caused by a technical error during a test launch.
The information came days after President Donald Trump prompted confusion when he posted a message on Twitter referring to the explosion — accompanied by an image of the site that some suspected was once classified — noting that “the United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident.”
Ali Rabiei, a spokesman for the Iranian government, confirmed Monday that an explosion had taken place at a launchpad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center, in a statement reported by Iranian state news outlet IRNA.
“The blast was caused by a technical error, and experts are unanimous in the matter, and it is clear how it happened,” Rabiei said.
He added that the explosion had happened on a test site and that a satellite had not been damaged, as it was not attached to the rocket that was launched.
Rabiei also criticized Trump’s Twitter post.
“We don’t understand why the U.S. president tweets and posts satellite pictures with excitement,” he said. “This is not understandable.”
The image that Trump shared last week appeared to show devastating damage to the launch site and the charred remains of a rocket and launchpad after what appeared to be a fire. He ended his message with what seemed to be a taunt: “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened.”
When asked by reporters whether the photo was once classified, which many analysts believe was the case, Trump defended its release.
“We had a photo, and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” he said.
Iran’s space program has experienced many failed launches. Over the past 11 years, 67% of Iranian orbital launches have failed, compared with a 5% failure rate worldwide for similar launches, according to data from publicly available records.
Two Iranian previous attempts this year to launch satellites, one in January and one in February, also failed. A separate fire at the Khomeini space center in February killed three workers, Iranian state media reported at the time.
In February, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration had scaled up a secret U.S. program to sabotage Iran’s missiles and rockets. Washington believes Tehran’s space program is merely a cover for its attempts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile to launch a nuclear warhead.