- Aug 17, 2009
By barbara opall-rome
Published: 19 Nov 2009 18:20
Tel Aviv - Israel is readying its newest spy satellite, Ofeq-8, for launch by the middle of next year, but production orders for a next-generation Ofeq-9 are stalled pending a cost-sharing and technical agreement with a prospective partner country.
The Ofeq-8, now in final construction at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will be launched into low-Earth orbit by Israel's indigenous Shavit launcher, also built by IAI. It will house a high-resolution panchromatic payload, built by Elbit Systems Elop, similar to Israel's operational in-orbit Ofeq-5 and Ofeq-7 satellites, launched in 2002 and 2007 respectively.
Israel lost its Ofeq-6 in September 2004, when it crashed into the Mediterranean Sea due to an electrical malfunction that failed to ignite the Shavit's third-stage motor.
"Ofeq-8 belongs to the same generation of our two earlier electro-optical satellites," an Israeli expert said. "Like [Ofeq-5 and Ofeq-7], it will be launched by our national launcher. Beyond that, details guiding the next generation of electro-optical satellites remain to be determined."
Leaders of the Israeli space industry bemoan funding, technical and political uncertainties that are obscuring a clear picture of the Ministry of Defense's future military space plans. At the beginning of the decade, MoD's road map included plans for a dedicated military communications satellite. It was dropped about five years ago in favor of enhanced downlinks and ground stations to support services from Israel's Amos and other commercial satellites.
Aside from the fully funded and soon-to-be-completed Ofeq-8, Israel plans a second synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite, dubbed TecSAR-2, for launch in late 2011 or 2012. But beyond those two programs, government and industry sources say, not even MoD knows at this point how many satellites it can expect to deploy, what specific capabilities they will possess and which launchers will be used to insert them into orbit.
Officials attribute the uncertainty to funding shortfalls, which have forced MoD to seek foreign investment to supplement its approximately $80 million annual budget for military space.
Government and industry sources here said MoD has begun negotiations with a prospective Asian partner for the follow-on Ofeq-9, also known here as OPSAT3000. Israel's military censor prohibits identification of the prospective partner.
The next-generation satellite will feature an advanced panchromatic camera and possibly a multispectral imaging payload. But until Israel and its potential partner can harmonize respective capability requirements and agree on a final configuration, the project remains in various stages of development.
Similarly, the choice of a launch vehicle to insert Ofeq-9 into orbit will depend on the conclusion of a government-to-government agreement. If the foreign partner joins the program, it most likely will demand deployment into polar orbit, which cannot be done from Israel due to geographical limitations.
Israel faced the same situation with the 2008 launch of TecSAR, which used an Indian PSLV rocket to deploy the radar satellite into the polar orbit demanded by its Indian partner.
"Every Israeli remote sensing satellite, whether civilian or military, is designed to be launched with Israeli launch vehicles," said Tal Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at Israel's Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Studies. "But whether this happens depends on multiple factors, one of them being needs of our partners.
"TecSAR was an exception, again for several reasons," he said. "One very important reason was the need to insure this very sophisticated and expensive satellite, which could not be obtained for a Shavit launch."
Chaim Eshed, director of space programs for Israel's MoD, declined to comment on military space plans or on discussions with prospective satellite partners. "I believe we're on the path to realizing our goals," he said.
At a Nov. 3 Tel Aviv University symposium, "Israeli Space: Crisis or Opportunity," Eshed said MoD is actively supporting efforts by the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and leading Israeli aerospace companies to secure significant, multiyear government funding for commercial space initiatives that would ultimately benefit national security needs.