TEL AVIV - Israel delivered its latest spy satellite into low Earth orbit on June 22, using an improved version of its indigenous Shavit launcher, defense sources here said.
An official Ministry of Defense (MoD) notice of the launch, which took place about 10 p.m., was expected by midnight, once technicians ascertained that the satellite appeared to be functioning.
By June 25, officials said they should be able to validate the operational capability of the 300-kilogram Ofeq-9 satellite and its subsystems and begin receiving the first pictures from its high-resolution sensor.
"We delivered it perfectly, but we're still waiting to hear the baby's screams," said Chaim Eshed, the MoD's director for space programs.
Ofeq-9 is a "twin brother" of the Shavit-launched Ofeq-7 and Ofeq-5, the former operational since June 2007 and the later since June 2002. A launch failure in September 2004 caused the loss of Israel's planned Ofeq-6 satellite. TecSAR, the country's synthetic aperture radar satellite launched from an Indian rocket in January 2008, now occupies the Ofeq-8 slot in the MoD lineup.
As of 11 p.m. Israel time on June 22, officials here were waiting for the Ofeq-9 to make its first pass over Israel.
"Right now, it's giving a pulse, and we assume it has opened its solar panels, but our inspection and validation must wait for it to pass over Israel," a program official said. "Right now, all I can say is the injection was very nominal and very precise. The first stage, second stage and third stage separation of the satellite from the launcher performed as planned."
Ofeq-9 will operate in a constellation with the two other Ofeqs currently in orbit. While precise imaging capabilities remain classified, sources here say all three offer resolutions "much better than" a half-meter.
Israel Aerospace Industries is prime contractor for the Ofeq satellites and the Shavit launcher, while Elbit Systems' Elop produces the satellite's high-resolution imaging camera.