, Israel —
Israel is embarking on
a major expansion of its
military space capabilities beginning
with the upcoming
launch of the Ofeq-7 imaging satellite and at least three additional spacecraft by 2011.
In parallel, the government plans to
supplement its burgeoning defense and security needs through priority use of three new Israeli commercial satellites planned for launch in the same four-year period.
Those include the Amos-3 and Amos-4 communications satellites and the Aros-C remote sensing spacecraft.
While the specific launch date of Israel’s newest spy satellite remains classified, defense and industry officials say the event is imminent. As with previous launches of the Ofeq series, Ofeq-7 will be launched westward over the Mediterrranean by Israel’s indigenous Shavit three-stage, solid-fuelled launch vehicle.
Both the satellite and launch vehicle are developed and produced by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, Ltd. (IAI).
intensified space drive comes amid increasing concern here about Iran’s nuclear development program, and Iran’s and Syria’s support of Hizbollah, Hamas and other organizations that Israel has designated as terrorist groups.
Three of the new imaging satellites –
Ofeq-7, the TechSAR radar satellite
and Ofeq-8 – have been on the MoD manifest for years. But sources here said heightened regional tensions have compelled near-term, multiyear funding for at least one additional spacecraft, dubbed Ofeq-Next.
Moreover, MoD plans to enter into some type of partnership with Tel Aviv-based Spacecom, so that the planned Amos-4 multiband communications satellite will serve the commercial market as well as military needs, sources here said.
, IAI and defense and security officials here are anxiously awaiting the launch of Ofeq-7, whose successful deployment in low Earth orbit is considered “strategically essential,” according to one Israeli general.
In a June 5 interview, the general said Israel requires “robust coverage” over high-priority areas that the country now lacks, given the failed September 2004 launch of Ofeq-6.
“This nation has only one operational orbiting platform that meets our requirements, and it’s already well into old age,” he said, in reference to Ofeq-5, launched in May 2002.
As a result of the Ofeq-6 failure, MoD has become increasingly reliant on ImageSat International’s dual-use ErosA spacecraft –
a clone of the Ofeq-3 – and the more advanced Eros-B satellites, launched in 2000 and 2006 respectively.
Inbar, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, said a failure of the upcoming Ofeq-7 launch would seriously harm national security in two specific ways.
, said Inbar, it is incumbent upon Israel in the current geo
political environment to shorten the time it takes
to revisit specific targets of interest. “Right now,
Ofek-5 is our only asset operating in inclined orbit, which allows for a much shorter revisit time than that provided by the polar-orbiting Eros satellites,” he said.
Second, if the Shavit launcher fails, it could seriously harm Israel’s indigenous launch program. “In my view, Israel must have a solid space launch capability, and a greater budget should be directed to the launchers. We have 100 percent success rate in space, but not every satellite makes it into orbit,” Inbar said.
If all of the launches expected over the next few years are executed as planned, Israel should have a dedicated force of four military spy satellites by 2011, three from the Ofeq series and the TechSAR. Additionally, the government will make use of ImageSat’s follow satellite,
Eros C, which is planned for launch later
this decade, and Eros B, which should remain operational through 2012.
As for communications satellites, Israel does not yet have a dedicated space-based provider, although it uses transponders from SpaceCom’s Amos-1 and Amos-2 commercial satellites.
The government also plans to be serviced by Amos-3, a twin-band satellite planned for launch early next year, and the multiband Amos-4, whose specific status and launch date have yet to be
“We’ve seen very intense growth in our satellite sector,” said Yossi Weiss, general manager of IAI’s Systems, Missiles & Space Group, the exclusive provider of all locally-developed satellites.
In a mid-May interview, Weiss noted that six IAI-built satellites are now operating in
orbit. Another five satellites –
all but one of them for MoD or Israeli commercial firms –
are “in one stage or another of the manufacturing process,” he said.
Aside from Ofeq-7, the next Israeli spy satellite scheduled for launch is TecSAR, now in the final stages of integration at IAI’s MBT Division.
In a visit last month to the IAI clean room, the approximately 300-kilogram synthetic aperture radar satellite was observed fully assembled, and being readied for acoustic and other forms of integration testing.
Israel’s MoD declined comment on the imminent Ofeq-7 launch or on any aspect of its military space program when contacted June 5.