Israel launched the new Ofek 16 spy satellite into orbit from a launchpad at Palmahim airbase early Monday, the Defense Ministry announced.Ofek 16 is an electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities and was the first launch of an Israeli satellite since Spacecom’s Amos-17 took off from Florida in 2017.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz hailed the successful launch, saying it’s another extraordinary achievement for the defense establishment, for the defense industries as a whole, and for Israel Aerospace Industries in particular – and that “technological superiority and intelligence capabilities are essential to the security of the State of Israel.”“We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place,” Gantz added.The Space Administration in the Defense Ministry has led the development and production of the satellite and the launcher. IAI is the prime contractor, having assigned the program to its Systems, Missiles and Space Group, together with the MLM division, which is responsible for development of the launcher.The satellite’s payload was developed by Elbit Systems. The launch engines were developed by Rafael Advanced Systems and Tomer, a government-owned defense company. Additional companies have participated in this program, including Rokar and Cielo. Various IDF officials from the Intelligence Corps and Air Force have also been involved in the satellite development process.Following the launch, the satellite began to orbit the Earth and to transmit data. Defense Ministry and IAI engineers have started a series of pre-planned tests to determine the propriety and performance level of the satellite before it begins its full operational activities. Once operational, the IDF’s 9900 Intelligence Unit will be responsible for the satellite.Amnon Harari, head of the Defense Ministry’s Space and Satellite Administration, said the satellite will monitor threats facing Israel.Iran’s space program is “a threat that we have to monitor” despite the failures they’ve had in recent years, Harari said.“Iran is investing a lot into building its space power and program,” he said. “The effort is there and we should assume that eventually, they will reach a significant level in this area. Although to achieve technology like Ofek 16 will take a long time, it’s a threat we have to monitor.”The satellite, which sends engineers messages of proper functioning, will join other satellites already keeping tabs on Iran and other adversaries. While Ofek 16 is similar to Ofek 11 in terms of capabilities, there have been precise improvements that will give maximum operational output.The first pictures from the satellite are expected to be sent to Earth next week.The Defense Ministry invests hundreds of millions of shekels every year in developing the space and satellite industries. The multi-year space program not only strengthens the hi-tech industry and creates thousands of jobs, but also advances the strategic capabilities of the country. While investment in this field focuses on strategic defense systems, the satellite industry fuels technological innovations and solutions as satellite technology constantly pushes boundaries by combining advanced engineering and challenging conditions that space launches and operations include.The State of Israel was the seventh country to achieve full space capabilities and is one of only 13 countries capable of launching satellites, alongside the US, Italy, France, Japan, India, the UK, Ukraine, China, Russia and Iran, as well as North and South Korea.Celia Jean contributed to this report.