Detail of Sharud site [source: Norbert Brugge]
According to IHS Jane's 360:
The [Shahrud] site discovered by IHS Jane's is 165 km to the northeast of the existing Semnan space centre and 40 km southeast of the city of Shahrud. Construction started between May and September 2010 - around the same time that the expansion at the Semnan site began - and now extends over an area of approximately 100 km 2.
Like Semnan, the Shahrud facility has a launch tower that is approximately 23 m high, suggesting the two sites duplicate the ability to launch the Simorgh or even larger rockets.
However, there are significant layout differences: the Shahrud facility's 140x200 m pad is far larger and it has a single 125 m-long rocket exhaust shaft, rather than two. Its 62x47 m horizontal rocket checkout facility is also smaller than the 100x50 m one at Semnan.
It is [...] likely that [Iran's three space center] sites reflect the scale of Iran's ambitious space programme, which plans to launch constellations of communications, surveillance and weather satellites in the coming years. A manned-space mission has also been talked about.
The Semnan facility has been launching SLVs eastwards, so they benefit from the Earth's rotation to gain additional altitude. A facility at Chabahar would presumably launch rockets southwards over the Indian Ocean, which would be useful for putting surveillance satellites into polar orbits.
With all this activity planned, it would make sense for Iran to build a new facility dedicated to testing its next generation of long-range, solid-fuel ballistic missiles. The Shahrud facility would be well-suited to this role. The area has a history of involvement in Iran's ballistic missile programme, the new facility's buildings are spread out to minimise the risk of sympathetic explosions resulting from accidents, and there does not appear to be a liquid-fuel storage area.
Its orientation suggests it would launch towards the south-south-east, meaning large amounts of telemetry data could be gathered as missiles fly over Iranian territory. The rocket stages would fall inside Iran and the final stages would come down in the Indian Ocean.
Shahrud launch pad area [source: Norbert Brugge]
Sharud site: 36°12' 02" / 55°20' 15" [source: Norbert Brugge]
There are a number of possible explanations for this identified site, including:
a) It is related to Iran's ambitious space program, in general, which under the administration sought the relatively lofty goal of putting an astronaut in earth orbit.
b) It is related to Iran's ballistic missile research and development. Iran's solid-fueled ballistic missiles such as the Sejjil range of MRBMs (and potentially further developed missile types) are reportedly under-tested.
It will be interesting to see if Iran's space program will be accorded the same level of priority under the Rouhani administration, which even under the later days of the preceding administration appeared to be behind schedule possibly due to the adverse effects of U.S. led sanctions being applied against the country.
Above: Map showing Iran's three Space Centers [IHS Janes 360]