Some readers have asked why we have yet to comment on the very interesting November 12 explosion at an Iranian missile facility (35°37’26.69″N, 50°52’23.88″E), as well as reports of another explosion near Isfahan. The short answer is that, despite a lot of research, I just don’t have anything interesting to add yet.
Sometimes, when that happens, it helps to simply ask questions. Robert Schmucker and Markus Schiller have been up to the same thing, and send along their list of preliminary thoughts and remaining questions:
On November 12, 2011, an explosion rocked an Iranian military facility just southwest of Tehran. Up to 20 military personnel are reported to have died in the blast, including a General who was regarded as a leading figure in the Iranian missile program.
A few days ago, Paul Brannan of ISIS published a short piece on the incident that also included satellite imagery of the site 10 days after the blast. Michael Elleman of IISS pointed us to this report and asked some very good questions, triggering our interest in the event.
Here are some of our findings so far. They are, of course, only preliminary and might still change with new information in the future.
– Compared to other solid-propulsion related facilities all over the world, this site is small.
– The satellite image was taken 10 days after the incident. The extent of any cleanup efforts during these 10 days is unknown, but it seems that much of the debris was already moved.
– The damage that is visible on the satellite image is massive. Even buildings 150 m away from the supposed center of the blast show severe damage.
– The damage pattern of an exploding solid rocket motor is known (for example the Pershing accident at Waldheide, Germany, 1985).
– This damage pattern looks more like a detonation than a solid propellant burn-off or explosion.
– The ground is charred at 3 different places.
– One of these places is right in the middle of a former building (in the very southwest of the image).
– The other two charred marks are located outside of former buildings, but close to them (slightly north of the first mark, and again north of that, on the northeastern corner of the former blue-roofed building in the northwest).
– The charred marks are large, at least 15 m in diameter.
– Composite propellants generally do not detonate – they are Class 1.3 explosives. Pure ammonium perchlorate might detonate under certain conditions.
– With a detonation of this size, one should expect crater(s), especially if the detonation(s) took place right on the ground (as with barrels filled with ammonium perchlorate, for example).
– No craters are visible on the available satellite image (only some debris that creates the impression of one or two craters).
– The roofs of high buildings in the distance are heavily damaged.
– Tall trees that were visible on the earlier image were affected, small trees and bushes seemingly not.
– When an important leader visits a facility like this, it is standard procedure not to do any dangerous activities that may potentially harm the visitor.
The question now is: What really happened at this site on November 12?
Let me only add a list of possible reference incidents relating to solid-propellant rockets — the 1985 Pershing accident at Waldheide (US accounts use Heilbronn as a place name), the 1988 PEPCON disaster, and the 2003 VLS explosion in Brazil.