Iran said on Tuesday it had launched its first domestically manufactured satellite, prompting expressions of concern from world powers and the threat of possible "consequences" from the United States.
"Dear Iranians, your children have put the first indigenous satellite into orbit," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on television after a launch coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
"With this launch the Islamic Republic of Iran has officially achieved a presence in space," he said.
The Omid (Hope) satellite was sent into space on Monday evening carried by the home-built Safir-2 rocket, Iranian news agencies reported.
The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch a space rocket could be diverted into developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes and that it has the right to technology already in the hands of many other nations, including archfoe the United States.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed disappointment with Iran following overtures for dialogue made by President Barack Obama. Shortly after taking office last month, Obama said he was willing to extend the hand of diplomacy to Iran, after 30 years of severed diplomatic relations.
"This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region," Gibbs said.
"All of this continues to underscore that our administration will use all elements of our national power to deal with Iran and to help it be a responsible member of the international community," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran it faced consequences if it failed to respect demands that it halt its uranium enrichment activities.
"President Obama has signaled his intention to support tough and direct diplomacy with Iran, but if Iran does not comply with the UNSC and the IAEA mandate, there must be consequences," Clinton said.
She was referring to resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, calling on Iran to halt its suspect nuclear activities.
In London, British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell voiced "serious concerns" over the launch.
"This test underlines and illustrates our serious concerns about Iran's intentions," a statement said.
The launch comes at at time when Iran is ignoring repeated demands to freeze sensitive nuclear work.
Ahmadinejad said the satellite carried a message of "peace and brotherhood" to the world and dismissed suggestions the space programme had military goals.
"We have a divine view of technology unlike the dominating powers of the world who have Satanic views," he said.
Ahmadinejad has made scientific development one of his main goals, asserting that Iran has reached a peak of progress despite international sanctions and no longer needs help from foreign states.
State news agency IRNA said the satellite would circle the Earth 15 times every 24 hours.
Iranian aerospace expert Asghar Ebrahimi said Omid has an elliptical orbit of a minimum of 250 kilometres (156 miles) and a maximum of 400 kilometres.
The launch comes on the eve of a meeting in Germany on Wednesday of senior diplomats from six world powers who are due to discuss the nuclear standoff.
Iran sent its first Safir rocket into space in August. It is about 22 metres (72 feet) long, with a diameter of 1.25 metres (a little over four feet) and weighs more than 26 tonnes .
Iran's most powerful military missile, the Shahab-3, has a diameter of 1.30 metres and measures 17 metres in length. It has a range of 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) -- putting archfoe Israel and US forces in the region within reach.
Last year Iran triggered concern in the West when it said it had sent a probe into space on the back of a rocket to prepare for a satellite launch, and announced the opening of a space station in a remote western desert.
Iran has pursued a space programme for several years. In October 2005, a Russian-made Iranian satellite, the Sina-1, was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.
Reza Taghipour, head of the Iranian space agency, said Iran would launch another satellite carrier by the end of the Iranian year on March 20, Fars said.