Space: Israel Shifts Strategy and Rockets


April 27, 2006: Israel put another spy satellite into orbit on April 25th. This was the EROS B satellite, that was launched via a Russian rocket. The EROS is a military/commercial photo satellite, with time available for lease (unless vetoed by the Israeli military.) Normally, the country the satellite passes over is given the opportunity to buy the services of the EROS as it passes over. In the case of Iran, the Israeli military will be taking, and keeping, all the pictures.

Israel has, for nearly two decades, built and launched it's own satellites. But using its own rockets has not been successful. The Ofek-6 launch failed on September 6th, 2004. The 1998 launch of Ofek-4 failed also. Ofek-3, launched successfully in 1995, remained functional for five years. Ofek-5, launched in 2002, is believed to still be operating, as it was designed to last for eight years. However, since these satellites orbit the earth every 90 minutes, having more than one enables you to get a more continuous look at what's going on down there. At the moment, Israel is particularly concerned about what Iran is up to in the areas of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

The Ofek satellites are mainly intended to give Israel a spy satellite capability independent of the United States (which has traditionally provided spy satellite data, but not always as much as Israel wanted.) Currently, there are also several commercial photo satellites available, that will provide pictures on demand, and for a price. But these satellites are not always able to provide the kind of detail, and timeliness, that Israel wants.

The failed Ofek-6 launch cost Israel over $100 million. Israel has built its own boosters, based on their Jericho ballistic missiles, but apparently believes it can get cheaper and more reliable launch services from Russia and China.


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