from the July 2010 issue

Ofek-9 Soars into Space

Towards the end of June Israel launched a spy satellite from a base in the south of the country, the defence ministry said, with the device reportedly capable of monitoring arch-foe Iran. "A few minutes ago the State of Israel launched the Ofek-9 (Horizon-9) satellite from the Palmachim base," the ministry said. "The results of the launch are being examined by the technical team."

It gave no details on the satellite, but public radio said it, like its predecessors in the Ofek series, were capable of taking high resolution pictures and aimed at monitoring Iran's nuclear programme.

The radio said the satellite was developed by Israel Aircraft Industries and launched on a Shavit rocket.

Israel, regards Iran as its principal threat after repeated predictions by the Islamic republic's hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Jewish state's demise.

Along with the West, it suspects Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of its nuclear programme, a claim Tehran denies. Shortly after the launch the satellite began to send pictures With the launch of Ofek-9, Israel has six spy satellites in space. Defense News is a leading international news weekly covering the global defense industry. Barbara Opall-Rome, the Defense News' Israeli based correspondent has written that "Israel's Ministry of Defense has secured tacit U.S. government consent for a prospective remote sensing deal with China based on the Eros B, a commercial, high-resolution satellite nearly identical to the Israeli military's Ofeq-5".

Considering that Israel's satellite program began only 19 years ago the proposed Chinese connection is an outstanding example of how far Israel's satellite industry has progressed in a short period of time.

The history of Israel in space is short but remarkable. It started in 1988 with the launch of Ofeq 1 by the Shavit launcher, affiliating Israel to the very exclusive club of 7 countries, who launched a self-developed satellite with their own made launcher.

Israel often talks about maintaining a strategic edge over its neighbors in order to survive, and for this it has been developing all kinds of strategic tools and programs. Israel's space program is one of these, and it does have a very clear edge over its neighbors and opponents.

In this respect satellite communication and observation is Israel's major space-based strategic tool. A consortium of Israeli defense companies, of which Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) is the leader, developed the most recent Ofek-7. IAI is also the manufacturer of the Shavit launching rocket. Elop, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, produces the imaging payload. The cost of the satellite is classified. It weighs roughly 300 kilograms and it follows an elliptical orbit at an altitude of between 300 and 600 kilometers. Only 2.3 meters long, it has a life span of about four years with a high-resolution optical imaging payload, which is far advanced over previous Ofek-class satellites. Ofek-7 was described as having notable and significant improvements over the failed Ofek-6, which in its third boost stage plummeted into the Mediterranean Sea in September 2004. Israeli defense officials hinted that Ofek-7 would grant Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) unprecedented operational capabilities. In this context, ''With this launch we have improved Israel's operational capabilities by dozens of percentage points. This is due to improvements made to the satellite we now have better coverage in the skies'' said Brig. Gen. Haim Eshed, director of Space Programming at the Defense Ministry Research and Development Directorate (MAFAT).

What Israeli defense officials mean by operational capabilities is most probably due to tactical tools to be used during all kinds of military operations. With this new capability Israel seems to have enhanced the strategic as well as the tactical capabilities of its satellites. At that time Defense Ministry Director Gen. Pinhas Buhris also hailed the successful launch of Ofek-7 and said that as a former intelligence officer he knew ''firsthand'' the strategic contribution the Ofek satellites made to Israeli security. What Buhris hinted at by saying ''strategic contribution" is, of course, Ofek-7's ability to spy on Iran, Iraq and Syria. In fact Ofek-7's orbit reportedly passes over those countries every 90 minutes and thereby collects valuable visual intelligence.

In addition to Ofek-class satellites, Israel has Eros B -- a civilian-owned satellite used by the Defense Ministry on a contract basis -- and Amos 1 and 2 communication satellites. IAI is planning to launch the Amos 3 to enhance Israel's strategic communication capabilities.

All this clearly demonstrates that Israel has a very successful satellite program, which has managed to launch close to 10 satellites so far. In fact Israel is one of only seven countries with independent satellite launch capabilities and is an important member of this exclusive club, which also includes the US, France, Japan, China, India and Russia.

Launch history
Ofek 1, launched September 19, 1988, possessed a weight of 155 kg. It accomplished mainly solar cell and radio transmission tests.

Ofek 2, was launched April 23, 1990. It also accomplished communication tests.

Ofek 3, launched April 5, 1995, was the first operational Israeli satellite with reconnaissance (photography) capabilities. It weighed 225 kg and was launched on a new version of Shavit.

Ofek 4, launched January 22, 1998, did not achieve earth orbit due to a launcher failure and was lost. Ofek 5, was launched 28 May 2002.

Ofek 6, launched September 6, 2004 encountered another launcher failure, failed to achieve low earth orbit and also crashed to the sea. The launcher failure was due to the third stage of the Shavit launcher.

Ofek 7 was successfully launched on June 11, 2007.

Ofek-7 is the latest in the Ofek (horizon in Hebrew) class of satellites and it replaced Ofek-5, which has been in orbit and functioning successfully for almost five years.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report July 2010

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