Israel to invest millions in real-time satellite capacity

Exclusive: Upgrade would enable live feeds from anywhere, removing 90-minute delay that can be critical in times of conflict.

By
May 11, 2011 01:42
2 minute read.
Ofek 9

Ofek 9 spy satellite 311. (photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries)

The Defense Ministry is set to invest millions to upgrade Israel’s space communication capabilities, to enable reconnaissance and surveillance satellites used by the IDF to provide real-time intelligence. As things stand, Israeli satellites can only download their data when they fly directly over Israel – which can mean a delay of up to 90 minutes, a critical handicap in times of conflict.

Israel currently operates the Ofek 9, Ofek 7 and the Ofek 5 satellites, as well as the advanced TecSar satellite which is one of only a handful in the world that uses advanced radar technology instead of a camera. The IDF also receives services from two commercially owned satellites known as Eros A and B.

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Sources in the IDF’s C4I Directorate said on Tuesday, however, that one of the current drawbacks for Israel was its inability to download footage taken by a satellite before it completes its 90-minute orbit across the Earth when it can link up to one of Israel’s satellite ground stations.

“We are looking into ways to be able to download material from satellites even when they are not over Israel and in sight of the ground stations,” one officer said. “This will give us the ability to receive live footage from an area of interest.”

Currently, Israel’s satellite coverage is considered fairly comprehensive due to the relatively high number of satellites it operates in space. With at least four military-designated satellites, the IDF can continuously track targets or areas of interest by having satellites fly over them at short intervals.

To facilitate the data transfer back to Israel, the Defense Ministry is considering launching a communications satellite that will be solely used for military purposes. Such a project is considered ambitious and extremely expensive.

In the meantime, the country is moving forward with plans to launch the Amos-4 communications satellite, which will augment two communications satellites currently in space, in early 2013.

Built by Israel Aerospace Industries, the 4.2-tonne Amos is said to be more capable that its three predecessors. The satellite has 10 antennas which will provide coverage over Africa, Asia and Europe. One of the 10 antennas is a multi-beam antenna, and two of the others are dual band and wideband antennas, which can transmit and receive on two different frequencies.

“Our vision is to be able to see live footage even when the satellites are out of range of our ground stations,” the officer said.

Part of the IDF’s multi-year plan, Halamish, which will go into effect in the coming months is the procurement of new data-control systems that will assist Military Intelligence in deciphering and cataloging surveillance footage. Currently, most of the analysis of satellite footage is done by IDF soldiers specially trained to read the images.

“We would like to develop a system that can decipher, analyze and catalog footage produced by satellites at a faster rate,” a senior Israeli Air Force officer said.


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