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Iran claims launch of new space capsule

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Thursday that it had successfully launched a test spacecraft meant to sustain life in orbit.

The state IRNA news agency said the capsule was carried by a rocket dubbed Kavoshgar-4 — or Explorer-4 — some 75 miles (120 kilometers) into orbit on Tuesday before returning to earth.

The report provided no other details and the claim could not be independently confirmed.

Iran has made a series of claims about advances in its ambitious space program, which has Western powers worried about the possibility of its military applications.

Last year, Iran announced it had successfully launched a rocket carrying a mouse, turtle and worms into space. In February, Iranian officials showed reporters images of a monkey in a test spacecraft and suggested it would be send it into orbit in the near future.

Iran is showcasing its technological successes as signs it can advance despite the threat of U.S. and U.N. sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.

It is also pushing forward on its military missile program, frequently testing missiles capable of reaching Israel, U.S. bases in the Gulf and even parts of southeast Europe.

Many nations in the West and Middle East fear Iran's space program could also bolster its ballistic missile program and ability to conduct space-based surveillance. The U.S. and other countries have cited fears that Iran's nuclear program and missile program could allow it to target Europe and Israel with atomic weapons.

Iran denies the charges, saying both its space and nuclear programs have aimed at peaceful purposes like power generation and communications and reconnaissance on natural disasters.