Egypt to launch first spy satellite

Israeli expert: Move marks significant change in balance of space capabilities.

In an effort to gain a foothold in space and gather intelligence on Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, Egypt plans to launch its first spy satellite on Tuesday from Kazakhstan. The Egyptstat 1, which weighs just under 100 kilograms, will circle the earth at an altitude of 668 kilometers. Using a high-powered multi-spectrum telescopic camera, it will be capable of transmitting black-and-white, color and infrared images. The camera can spot objects on the ground as small as four meters across. Egypt hopes to launch another satellite - called Desertstat - by the end of the year, currently under construction in Italy. The Egyptstat satellite, constructed in cooperation with the Yuzhnoye Company of Ukraine, will be launched on Tuesday from Kazakhstan, carried by a Dnepr missile, together with 12 light-weight Saudi Arabian satellites. Tal Inbar, a senior research fellow at Israel's Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya, said the Egyptstat launching marks a significant change in the balance of space capabilities in the Middle East. It will help Egypt to collect intelligence on Israel, Inbar added. "This has regional significance," Inbar said. "Egypt is basically saying that they lead the region in satellite technology, since while Israel has advanced satellites in space, they do not have multi-spectrum capabilities." In April, Israel launched the Eros B spy satellite, which can spot images on the ground as small as 70 centimeters across. It enhanced Israel's ability to follow developments at Iran's nuclear facilities. Eros B, which will orbit the earth alongside its predecessor - Eros A, launched in 2000 - allows Israel, defense officials said, to gather information on Iran's nuclear program and long-range missiles, which are capable of reaching Israel. In October 2005, Iran launched its first satellite - the Sina-1. Iran has announced plans to launch another satellite, the Mesbah, in the near future.