(photo credit: Channel 10)
A day after Iran's leader called for the Jewish state's destruction, Israel fortified its presence in space on Tuesday and succeeded in launching the Eros B spy satellite from a mobile launch-pad at the Svobodny cosmodrome in Siberia.
The satellite, which has the ability to spot images on the ground as small as 70 centimeters, officials said, would enhance Israel's ability to spy on and follow developments at Iran's nuclear facilities.
A Russian official said the satellite reached orbit, but Yosef Weiss, vice president of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and head of the MBT Space Division, which developed the satellite, told The Jerusalem Post that it would take another month until the satellite was determined to be operational and control over it was transferred to ImageSat International, a leading firm in the field.
The satellite, which he said was at the forefront of image satellites in the world, would be able to begin transmitting pictures by the end of the week. While he refused to discuss the planned use of the satellite to spy on Iran, Weiss said, "The satellite will give services to the defense establishment as well as other clients. It has outstanding abilities."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called the launching of the Eros B satellite a "great achievement" for the defense establishment and the State of Israel.
"This satellite will enhance our ability to collect quality intelligence at great distances from Israel," he said. "Israel proved once again that it first counts on itself when it comes to protecting its citizens and is at work all the time to develop advanced and new technological means to deal with the threats around us."
The Eros B satellite, which will orbit the earth alongside its predecessor - Eros A - launched in 2000, would allow Israel, a defense official said, to gather information on Iran's nuclear program and its long-range missiles, which are capable of striking Israel.
An attempt to launch a military spy satellite, Ofek 6, failed in 2004, but Ofek 5 is still in orbit, and Channel 10 reported Israel plans to launch another spy satellite next year. The Eros B, officials said, would transfer the images to a command station in Lod where they would be deciphered. Using a high-powered telescopic camera, Ofek 5 has already provided Military Intelligence with images of military movements among Israel's enemies.
Iran has also been working on gaining a foothold in space and last October succeeded in launching its first satellite - Sina-1. Iran has also already announced plans to launch another satellite, called Mesbah, in the near future.
Eros B is a lightweight commercial satellite (290 kg.), ensuring maximum agility and stability for optimum imaging quality. Similar to Eros A, the Eros B satellite is expected to provide service for between eight and 10 years.
"Based on ImageSat International's past experience, we expect to receive the first images from the EROS B satellite within a few days, and we assume that full services to our customers will commence within a few weeks," said Shimon Eckhaus, CEO of ImageSat International.
AP contributed to this report.