Egypt struggles for spy satellite program progress

Country has struggled to make progress in gaining intelligence satellite capabilities.

Technion satellite project 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Technion)
Technion satellite project 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Technion)
Since Egyptian technicians lost touch two years ago with an observation satellite they hoped would help carry the country into the “space club,” the country has struggled to make progress in gaining intelligence satellite capabilities, but it remains committed to the program, a space security expert told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Tal Dekel, a research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, said few were aware of the extent of Egypt’s satellite program.
“People talk about the Iranians, but no one talks about Egypt’s program, which includes much more than a satellite,” he said.
Cairo has been busy with a complex space initiative made up of several components.
The program is disguised as scientific research, Dekel said.
As part of the scientific veneer, the satellite program is run under the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.
“They say the satellites are scientific. But usually, by this stage, most satellites are dual use,” Dekel explained. “As resolutions improve and technology progresses, satellites can become good enough for military use.”
In 2007, Egypt launched its first satellite capable of photographing sites on earth, called the EgyptSat-1. The launch came after Egypt awarded a tender to Ukraine to construct the satellite.
Under the agreement, 60 Egyptian scientists were trained by Ukraine, with the aim of Egypt developing the capability to operate the satellite independently. The Egyptians hoped to eventually construct another satellite on their own and launch it by 2017. The second satellite was supposed to be comprised of 60 percent Egyptian- made components.
But in 2010, the program took a turn for the worse, when all communications with EgyptSat-1 were lost.
Dozens of Egyptian scientists lost their jobs in the aftermath.
Egypt kept the setback secret for three months, before details leaked out, Dekel said.
Cairo has not given up its ambitions to join the space club. Today, Dekel said, “Egyptian students are being qualified to continue to program, both in Egypt and around the world.”
The technological know-how needed to reach this goal is vast, Dekel stressed.
“You need to be able to maneuver the satellite in space for missions, and to repair its course in orbit.
When the satellite passes over you, you have to download its images. The Egyptians still can’t do it alone,” he said.
Hence, Egypt has not set a date for the launch of its next satellite, EgyptSat-2.
EgyptSat-2 will be designed to snap photos with ground resolution of 5.4 meters per pixel, and would represent a milestone in Egypt’s path toward intelligence satellite capabilities.
“Many countries want to be members of the space club, but few have the real ability to join it,” Dekel said.
Currently, Dekel noted, Israel is one of only 10 countries capable of building their own satellites, launching them from their territory and maneuvering them in space.