Iranian officials and satellite images suggest the Islamic Republic is preparing to a launch a satellite into space after three major failures last year, the latest for a program which the U.S. claims helps Tehran advance its ballistic missile program.
Satellite images from San Francisco-based Planet Labs Inc. that have been annotated by experts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies show work at a launchpad at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran's Semnan province.
The photos also show more cars and activity at a facility at the spaceport, some 230 kilometers (145 miles) southeast of Iran's capital, Tehran. Such activity in the past has signaled a launch looms.
The increased activity corresponds to an uptick in reports in state and semiofficial media in Iran about launches coming amid celebrations marking the days before the nation celebrates the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran routinely unveils technological achievements for its armed forces, its space program and its nuclear efforts during this time.
Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran's information and communications technology minister and a possible contender in the country's 2021 presidential election, also increasingly has been tweeting about the country's satellite program.
He responded to a tweet late Monday night by the U.S.-based broadcaster NPR highlighting Planet Lab's satellite photos acknowledging Iran planned to launch a satellite system called the Zafar.
An earlier report by Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Jahromi as saying Tehran planned to launch six satellites into orbit this year, including the Zafar 1 and 2. IRNA described the Zafar 1 and 2 as communication satellites aimed at "broadcasting a single message to all users, establishing one-way voice communication between two users and sending a message to 256 direct users."
The apparent preparations for a rocket launch come after two failed launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites last year, as well as a launchpad rocket explosion in August. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
The satellite failure in August drew even the attention of President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The three failures in a row raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran's program, something Trump touched on in his tweet.
"The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran," Trump wrote, identifying the rocket used. "I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One."
The U.S. alleges such satellite launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. Tehran also says it hasn't violated the U.N. resolution as it only "called upon" Tehran not to conduct such tests.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
The launch comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. Iran since has begun breaking terms of the deal limiting its enrichment of uranium.
Meanwhile, a series of attacks across the Persian Gulf culminated with a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killing Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory ballistic missile strike by Iran on Iraqi bases housing American troops earlier this month. Iran also accidentally shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner taking off from Tehran amid the tensions, killing all 176 people on board.
Authorities in Germany have confirmed the country's first case of the new virus that emerged in central China.
The health ministry in the southern state of Bavaria said late Monday that the man from Starnberg, south of Munich, is "in a clinically good condition."
Officials said the man is being medically monitored and isolated. Persons who were in close contact with the man are being informed about possible symptoms and hygiene measures.
The ministry said it considers the risk to the general population in Bavaria to be "low."
Authorities planned to hold a news conference in Munich on Tuesday where they would release further details.
The new coronavirus has infected thousands of people in China. Nearly all of the dozens of cases outside China are among people who recently traveled from there.
Two pilots were killed in a Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft crash on Monday night in Algeria's Oum El Bouaghi province, 450 km southeast of the capital Algiers, local media reported.
The state run television specified that the jet belongs to the Algerian Air Force, as it crashed near the military air base of Oum El Bouagui.
The incident occurred in an unpopulated area, the report said, without providing further details.
It is the second air crash in this province. On February 2014, a C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft crashed into a mountainous district, killing 77 people on board.
The latest and worst air disaster in the history of Algeria dates back to April 2018, as 257 people, including soldiers and members of their families, were killed after an Ilyushin Il-76 military airplane crashed down shortly after taking off from Boufarik military airport, 30 km southwest of Algiers.
The number of fever patients in central China's Wuhan saw an increase, with over 15,000 during peak hours over the past few days, said Ma Guoqiang, the city's Party secretary.
Wuhan usually received an average of 3,000 fever patients daily over the period of past years, so the surge in number resulted in long queues in some hospitals, Ma said at a press conference on Monday night.
"Currently there are 62 hospitals in Wuhan that are equipped with fever clinics, and the situation is getting better," Ma said.
Hu Ke, a respiratory physician at Hubei Provincial People's Hospital, said the number of discharged patients will also grow as diagnosis and treatment are being improved.
Hu said the treatment cycle for viral pneumonia is about two to three weeks. To ensure that cured patients infected with pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) are noninfectious, they will have to go through two virus detections and meet other standards before being released.
China's Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the 2020 spring semester for schools will be postponed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The MOE did not give the exact opening dates of the new semester for colleges and universities under the ministry but indicated that the decisions should be made depending on their localities, according to a circular released by the ministry late Monday.
The MOE suggested that colleges and universities under the central government's other ministries or departments also postpone school semester accordingly.
The new semester opening dates for universities and colleges under local authorities' administration, middle and primary schools, as well as kindergartens, should be decided by local education authorities.
The ministry warned that students who had left campuses for the Spring Festival holiday should not return without approval before the new semester.
All schools should guide students to stay at home, avoid gatherings and mass activities during the winter break, the ministry said, asking schools to keep those students who stay on campus away from infections.
The ministry also urged schools to draw up epidemic prevention and control plans and overhaul campuses to prepare for the new semester.
In China, most schools have two breaks in a year. The winter break, roughly one month, usually comes around the time of the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, allowing students to return home for this most important festival for the Chinese.
To control the novel coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government had extended the seven-day Spring Festival holiday, scheduled to end on Jan. 30, to Feb. 2.