In the face of Iran’s race to obtain nuclear weapons, Israel strengthened its foothold in space Tuesday with the successful launch of a spy satellite, which defense officials said would provide the IDF with unprecedented operational capabilities.
Called Ofek 9, the satellite was launched at around 10 p.m. Tuesday from the Palmahim air base along the Mediterranean coast. It was placed in low orbit by an Israel Aerospace Industries-manufactured Shavit booster rocket of the same type used for the Ofek 7 satellite in 2007.
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“This provides Israel with greater operational flexibility, since we now have another set of eyes on a target,” Chaim Eshed, director of space programming at the Defense Ministry’s Research and Development Directorate (MAFAT), told The Jerusalem Post
. “This means that we have increased the rate we can visit a target.”
The launch came as a great relief for the defense establishment, and particularly for IAI, lead contractor of the Ofek project. In September 2004, Israel failed to launch the Ofek 6, which plummeted to the sea in its third boost stage. Last week, South Korea failed to launch a satellite, and a week earlier, India also failed.
While the new satellite will not represent a significant technological breakthrough – it will carry a camera that’s a bit more advanced than the one aboard the Ofek 7 – it will provide the IDF with greater flexibility in utilizing its space assets.Ofek 9 to be followed by advanced satellite later this decade
Israel’s last satellite, TecSar, was launched from India in 2008. Also developed by IAI, the TecSar can create high-resolution images using advanced technology called Synthetic Aperture Radar, enabling it to produce images in all weather conditions and even at night. Israel also operates the Ofek 5 and receives services from the Eros B satellite.
The Defense Ministry skipped over the number eight in its decision to
call the satellite launched on Tuesday Ofek 9. Officials said this was
because TecSar was considered the eighth satellite, even though it was
not part of the Ofek series.
The next spy satellite to be launched will be called Opsat 3000. It is
scheduled to be sent into space later this decade and is expected to be
capable of unprecedented optical remote sensing at extremely high
Weighing 300 kg., Ofek 9 will orbit Earth from up to 600 km. in space.
It has a four-year life span and will communicate its images via
downlink with an IAI-run ground station.
While refusing to divulge the performance levels of the new satellite,
defense officials said Ofek 9 was by far one of the most advanced
satellites Israel had launched into space. Officials said it was
superior to the Eros B – launched in April 2006 – which has the ability
to spot images on the ground as small as 70 cm., although they refused
to divulge exactly what made it superior.