TEL AVIV, Israel —
Israeli defense and industry leaders
anxiously are awaiting the
planned operational certification of TecSAR, the nation’s first
radar imaging satellite, which
successfully was inserted into orbit Jan. 21 by an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
By Feb. 3, sources here say, initial streams of TecSAR-generated synthetic aperture radar
imagery are expected to reach the government’s
secure ground station on the campus of Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI), builder of
the 300-kilogram satellite and its multi-mode payload.
launch from the Sriharikota site on the Bay of Bengal in southeast India was executed under a commercial contract between IAI and Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Speaking to reporters following the early mo
ning launch, ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair said the satellite
successfully was placed in
o its intended
orbit 19 minutes after liftoff.
TecSAR is in an orbit with a 41 degree inclination relative to the equator. The perigee, or point closest to Earth, is 450 kilometers and the apogee, or most distant point, is 580 kilometers.
“This satellite can operate in any inclination and at a wide range of altitudes,” said Yossi Weiss, general manager of IAI’s Systems, Missiles and Space Group.
features mesh antenna
panels, which once opened capture radar signals bounced off
the Earth’s surface. Aside from IAI-subsidiary Elta Systems, which built
the 100-kilogram radar
payload, program subcontractors include TadiranSpectralink, which provided the satellite’s high-speed data link; and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which supplied
hydrazine thrusters and other propulsion components.
Once initial imagery is analyzed and the satellite’s various operational modes are determined to meet user requirements, the TecSAR will be declared
operational, sources here said. Until then, IAI and Ministry of Defense
technicians will proceed through an extensive initialization and calibration testing regime that began about an hour after launch
with the first receipt of the satellite’s signals.
“By all indications so far, the satellite is functioning properly,” IAI announced Jan. 21.
In interviews here, defense officials said TecSAR promises a qualitative upgrade in strategic intelligence, not only because of its
but also due to
its ability to cover selected areas for extended periods during each orbital pass
. Program officials said TecSAR features a unique combination of in-orbit agility and electronically-steered beams that allow operators to capture more images per orbit over a wider area than less capable spacecraft.
Agility is provided by high-powered
yet low-weight reaction wheels that allow the satellite to alter its
attitude as it travels some 7.5 kilometers per second. In parallel, electronic switching of the radar beam allows operators to backscan critical target areas and utilize multiple modes of image collection, thereby maximizing every second of the typical 8.5 minute
a given area.
During a tour of IAI’sTechSAR testing chamber last May, just prior to the satellite’s delivery to India’s Sriharikota space complex, Weiss said the payload is designed to collect imagery in three distinct operating modes:
spot mode for collecting a large number of high-resolution images per orbit; strip mode for capturing many hundreds of medium-resolution imaging swaths; and beam-scanning mosaic mode for very wide-area coverage at lower
Weiss said security classifications precluded him from discussing specific
imaging resolutions or coverage areas. “During a single pass, due to extraordinary flexibility of the beam and the agility of the satellite itself, TecSAR can capture widely spread targets at the same time,” said Weiss.
Another Israeli space official,
in an interview
, estimated TecSAR’sfootprint, or coverage area at any given time
, at more than 500 square kilometers in mosaic mode.
“If a normal satellite provides a 25-kilometer footprint, you can multiply by 20 or even 30 to get the coverage provided by TecSAR in mosaic mode,” he said. “By activating the reaction wheels, it makes a backscan that allows it to linger more time in a certain area.”
The official attributed TechSAR’s added value to “this unique combination of electronic switching of the beam and the mechanical agility of the satellite that allows us to achieve a phenomenal capability for high-resolution imaging over very large areas.”
experts say TechSAR will provide significantly enhanced revisit time for monitoring missile launching sites, seaport activities, arms production facilities, troop movements and other militarily significant sites
in the region. Like Israel’s IAI-produced Ofeq-series and Eros-series optical
satellites, TechSar circles the Earth every 90 minutes. However, unlike optical satellites, radar spacecraft are unaffected by darkness or inclement weather.
“If some countries or terror organizations are trying to hide things or move things under the cover of darkness or heavy clouds, this new satellite will deny them that capability,” said Yuval Steinitz, a veteran member of the Israeli parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee.
Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Studies, said the addition of TecSAR to the nation’s remote sensing constellation provides a significant boost in strategic intelligence capabilities.
“Combined with Ofeq-5, Ofeq-7, Eros A and Eros B, we can get to a much shorter revisit time at different altitudes and inclinations. Obviously, this is critically important, given the strategic threats we face from Iran, Syria and other places in the region,” Inbar said.
Additional reporting by K.S. Jayaraman, Bangalore, India.