IAI To Transfer Spy Sat to Military Users

May. 11, 2014 – 02:32PM   |   By BARBARA OPALL-ROME  

The Ofek 10 satellite was launched on April 9 and carriers a synthetic aperture radar.

The Ofek 10 satellite was launched on April 9 and carriers a synthetic aperture radar. (Israel Aerospace Industries)

YEHUD, ISRAEL — A month after launching Israel’s newest spy satellite into space, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), producer of the Ofek 10 and its advanced radar-imaging payload, is poised to transfer the strategic intelligence system to military hands.

IAI Chief Executive Yossi Weiss said Ofek 10 should be delivered to operational users “within weeks,” following extensive in-orbit testing by specialists with the company’s MBT Space Division here and Defense Ministry research and development authorities.

“So far, along all parameters, we’re quite satisfied,” Weiss said of the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite launched April 9 by an IAI-produced Shavit rocket.

“We’re taking our time to work through a very methodical and thorough testing program,” he said. “There will be no cutting corners. … And when it’s ready — within weeks — we will hand it over to the government of Israel to operate as an additional strategic asset for its use.”

In a May 4 interview, Weiss said Ofek 10 and its SAR payload, built by IAI subsidiary Elta Systems, embody “the edge of technology in the imaging satellite domain … with substantial cost-effectiveness for our clients.”

Like the IAI-built TecSAR serving Israel’s intelligence community since early 2008, Ofek 10 uses scanning radar arrays, rather than electro-optical cameras, to capture high-resolution images at night, in bad weather and even through camouflage nets.

But Ofek 10 — at 330 kilograms, just 30 kilograms heavier than TecSAR — is more powerful, agile and capable of capturing more high-resolution imagery over wider areas, executives here said.

Security restrictions prevented executives from discussing the clarity of images produced by Ofek 10 as it flies more than 7.5 kilometers per second, orbiting the globe every 90 minutes at an altitude of some 600 kilometers.

In a May 5 visit to IAI’s satellite production facility here, MBT General Manager Opher Doron cited the company’s investment in new lightweight composite structures that allow for larger, more powerful solar panels and radar antennas.

He also flagged the company’s ability to produce stronger, smoother reaction wheels that enable ground operators to point the satellite’s imaging payload with greater precision over more targets of interest in a single pass.

“In order to scan in a way that captures all target areas on the ground, you want a lightweight satellite that can maneuver very accurately with strong wheels that are very smooth,” Doron said.

“It’s really difficult to put all the bells and whistles on a small satellite — particularly a radar satellite — and get lots of very good pictures through flexible imaging,” he added. “We did that extraordinarily well with previous Ofek satellites, and we’re doing it even better with Ofek 10.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the successful launch and deployment is “further testimony to Israel’s impressive ability to develop and lead at the forefront of technology.”

In an April 10 statement, Ya’alon said Israel’s newest spy satellite would increase “the vast qualitative and technological advantage [we have] over our neighbors.” Ofek 10, he said, “will allow the defense establishment to better deal with threats both near and far, at all hours of the day and in all weather conditions.”

Ofek 10 expands Israel’s operational constellation of spy satellites to five, all produced by IAI.

It joins Ofek 9, launched in June 2010; TecSAR, the radar satellite launched in January 2008 now commonly known as Ofek 8; the June 2007 deployment of Ofek 7 and Ofek 5, apparently still operational since its launch 12 years ago this month.

The MoD also owns the 600 square-kilometer zone over Israel generated by the IAI-built Eros A and Eros B satellites, respectively launched in December 2000 and April 2006. Derived from earlier-generation Ofeks, Eros A and Eros B are dual-use satellites geared to commercial users, owned and operated by Tel Aviv-based ImageSat International. ■

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