Now that Israel has entered the ranks of the space powers and
has seen, besiyata deShmaya, their value, it is
planning further efforts in that field, hoping to launch
three new satellites in the next five years.
About a year ago Israel launched a military satellite called
Ofek 5, which proved its worth in recent months during the
war in Iraq and thereafter. As a result, other programs will
According to Ha'aretz reporter Amnon Barzilai, Israel
is currently developing three military satellites for
intelligence gathering purposes: Ofek 6, Ofek 7 and a radar
satellite named TECHSAR. According to the head of the Defense
Ministry's Space Program, Professor Haim Eshed, the three
satellites will be ready by 2007/8 and will be much more
capable than Ofek 5.
Within a few months Israel is planning to launch a civilian
communications satellite called Amos 2. A military
communications satellite is also being planned.
"Since the war in Iraq there has been a growing understanding
that there is no substitute for space and that it is one of
the important elements in the conduct of war," Eshed told
One of Israel's biggest headaches in launching satellites has
always been the fact that it is hemmed in on three sides by
hostile Arab countries. Most launchings are directed against
the rotation of the earth, that is, to the east. Israel's
only open side is to the west. It has made some launches in
that direction, and in other cases it has sought other sites
elsewhere in the world.
Eshed said the research in the space program is focused on
two areas: new photographic techniques making use of various
light wavelengths and using advanced methods such as three
dimensional photographs for mapping and radar photography;
and also an effort to reduce the size and weight of such
satellites. The hope is to be able to be able to send up
exceedingly small satellites, even less than 10 kilograms (22
pounds) that will have capabilities that are only found in
much larger satellites today, when even a "micro" satellite
weighs 100 kilograms. Smaller satellites are easier to
Scientists at the Rafael are working on technology to launch
satellites from F-15 fighters. The US uses such technology
for anti-satellite missiles but with its vast area has no
need to launch regular satellites that way.
"The air force would like to be able to fire a number of
satellites weighing 100 kilograms, that will cover the field
of battle," Eshed says. He expects Israel will have the
technology for such launches within five years.
Eshed says there are 500 people employed in the program,
which he says is very small compared to other countries
involved in space. The lead contractor is the space section
of Israel Aircraft Industries, while the main subcontractors
are Elta, Rafael, Elop, Israel Military Industries (Rafael),
Tadiran, Elisra and Specterlink.
"Since the inception of the space program 20 years ago, the
state has invested more than $2 billion in the program. In
other words, a mere $80 million annually."
Eshed says Israel has invested in its space program because
of its efficiency and the fact that using satellites to
photograph does not contravene international law. "The first
paper I wrote as a research and development officer in
Military Intelligence was in 1978. The visit of Egypt's
president Anwar Sadat was on the horizon, and the question
was raised regarding our ability to continue filming the
Sinai peninsula [without violating Egyptian airspace]."