TEL AVIV ø Israel has failed to place an advanced military
reconnaissance satellite into orbit.
Israeli officials said the Ofeq-6 satellite fell to earth on Monday
during a launch by Israel's Shavit booster rocket. They said the Shavit
was successfully launched and completed its two stages. But the third stage
of the flight, in which the Ofeq-6's engine was to have placed the satellite
into orbit, failed. The malfunction was traced to an engine subsystem.
"An unsuccessful attempt was made to launch into orbit a remote-sensing
satellite," the Defense Ministry said. "The malfunction in the third stage
of launch was being examined by an engineering team."
The state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries has been the prime contractor
of the Ofeq satellite program, Middle East Newsline reported. IAI has also designed and produced the Shavit
booster in cooperation with Rafael, Israel Armament Development Authority.
"The missile worked as expected, but the satellite had a malfunction,"
[Res.] Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, former chief of the Defense Ministry's
Research Directorate, said. "As a result, the satellite did not enter
Officials set the value of the Ofeq-6 project at $60 million. They
stressed that the unsuccessful launch -- caused by a signal failure to the
satellite's propulsion system -- would not harm any technology developed for
the satellite's remote-sensing imagery payload.
"This was financial damage," an official said. "It's the same as if an
F-16I [aircraft] crashed."
The loss of Ofeq-6 marked the second launch failure of an Israeli
military space satellite over the last three attempts. In May 2002, the
Shavit succeeded in placing the Ofeq-5 into orbit. But in 1998, the
solid-fuel booster failed to complete the launch of the Ofeq-4, which led to
a reassessment of Israel's space program.
Israel has sought to place at least three reconnaissance satellites into
orbit to ensure constant coverage of nuclear, missile and conventional
military threats in the Middle East. Officials said the main threat comes
from Iran, which has produced the Shihab-3 intermediate-range missile as
well as developed uranium enrichment capability.
Officials said the Ofeq-6, launched from the Palmahim air force base
south of Tel Aviv, was regarded as one of the most advanced small-sized,
low-earth-orbit satellites in the world with a greater resolution than that
of the Ofeq-5. Industry sources said the space camera installed by Elbit
Systems subsidiary, El-Op Electro-Optics Industries, was meant to have a
resolution of about 0.6 meters.
A major obstacle of the Ofeq program has been Israel's decision to fire
the Shavit to the west over the Mediterranean Sea. They said a westerly
launch -- against the earth's orbit -- required far more thrust than firing
the Shavit eastward. The Ofeq, which weighs about 300 kilograms, has been in
placed elliptical orbit at an altitude that ranges between 370 and 600
Officials said Israel has fired the Shavit to the west to prevent either
the booster or the satellite payload from falling into Arab countries in
case of launch failure. They said the Ofeq-6 and the Shavit dropped into the
eastern Mediterranean near Greece and would probably not be recovered.
Currently, Israel has one military reconnaissance satellite operating in
orbit. Since 2002, the Ofeq-5 has been relaying images of vital facilities
in the Middle East to an Israeli ground station. The shelf life of the Ofeq
was expected to be expire in 2006.
Israel's military has also employed the Eros-1A dual-use satellite,
launched in December 2000, for back-up reconnaissance capabilities. IAI,
contractor of the Eros, has planned to launch Eros-B1 in 2006, a two-year
delay from its original timetable.
On Aug. 29, Israel and the United States failed in a test of the Arrow-2
missile interceptor, also designed and produced by IAI. Officials said the
Arrow-2's test against a target meant to simulate the Scud D medium-range
missile was not connected to the production line of either the Shavit or
Officials said the Defense Ministry did not expect another launch of the
Ofeq until at least 2007. Still, they said, the ministry would seek a
special budget allocation to advance Israel's military space program and
ensure an Ofeq launch over the next two years.
"The program will be delayed slightly," [Res.] Maj. Gen. Eitan
Ben-Eliahu, an Israeli air force commander, said. "But with a lot of effort,
motivation and budget, this gap can be closed within two years."