Israel took a significant step toward bolstering its space-based reconnaissance capabilities April 25 with the successful launch of the Eros B imaging satellite aboard a Russian Start-1 rocket.

Eros B is owned by ImageSat International, a consortium with close ties to the Israeli government — its biggest customer. The successful launch brings to three the number of satellites available to the Israeli Ministry of Defense — including the government-owned Ofeq-5 and ImageSat’s Eros B — and takes some of the sting out of the September 2004 loss of the Ofeq-6 satellite, which was destroyed in a failure of Israel’s domestically built Shavit rocket.

In an April 27 briefing notice, the Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Studies, an Israeli think tank, said Eros B’s successful launch “enhances Israel’s strategic presence in space and contributes to its defense and economy and also contributes to progress in the local space industry.”

In an April 25 announcement, ImageSat said the 290-kilogram Israeli-made Eros B satellite separated as planned from its launcher, a converted Russian ICBM , some 16 minutes after liftoff from Svobodni, Siberia . Shortly afterwards, the satellite deployed its solar panels as scheduled, and the firm says it has maintained communications and control of the spacecraft, which is orbiting at an altitude of 508 kilometers.

“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,” Shimon Eckhaus, ImageSat’s chief executive officer, said in the announcement.

Eckhaus estimated it would take about 10 days to verify that all satellite subsystems were operating according to specifications.

Eros B is designed to capture black-and-white images at 70-centimeter resolution, which is sharp enough to discern objects of that size and larger. Its predecessor, Eros A collects images with 1.9-meter resolution.

Moreover, the newer satellite features a larger on board recorder, improved pointing accuracy and a faster data communications link than its predecessor.

As with Eros A, ImageSat is offering Eros B customers “secrecy and autonomy” through its Satellite Operating Partner program, which allows exclusive command and control of the satellite over specific regional areas.

The firm does not identify specific satellite operating partners, although Israeli Defense Ministry officials have acknowledged that the Israeli government has acquired the Eros footprint in its region.

Both Eros A and Eros B were produced by the MBT Division of Israel’s government-owned Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd. (IAI) and are designed to operate for about 10 years. IAI also builds the Ofeq series of government-owned spy satellites.

Lod-based IAI is a principal shareholder in ImageSat, along with Elbit Systems Ltd., whose Elop Electro-Optics Industries subsidiary produces Eros payloads. ImageSat also is owned in part by investors based in the United States and Europe, although the privately held company has declined to identify individual shareholders.

Similarly, ImageSat has not released financial performance data. Company plans, however, to go public by the end of this year will put an end to ImageSat opacity in terms of its shareholders as well as earnings and liabilities. In ImageSat’s April 25 launch announcement, Eckhaus noted that the firm recently raised $30 million in bonds to finance the Eros B launch and is preparing for an initial public stock offering “in the near future.”