JERUSALEM — Israel launched its Ofek 16 reconnaissance satellite in the morning of July 6 as part of an ongoing program that envisions launching new satellites every few years.
The satellite was made with technology from Israel’s three largest defense companies, with Israel Aerospace Industries, the prime contractor for the space program, building the launcher through its Systems, Missiles and Space Group; Elbit Systems supplying its Jupiter Space camera; and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems supplying the full hydrazine propulsion system and third-phase propulsion for the launcher as well as thrusters for the reaction control system.
The Space Administration of the Defense Ministry led the development of the satellite and its launcher. Government-owned company Tomer and other firms including Rokar and Cielo worked on the effort alongside the ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development.
Preparations for launch were kept on schedule despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The satellite is expected to provide technological superiority and intelligence capabilities essential to Israel, according to the Ministry of Defense. Having several advanced reconnaissance satellites in orbit will give Israel greater coverage at a time of rising security threats in the region. Once the satellite’s initial tests are completed, it will be considered operational and begin delivering images to the Israel Defense Forces’ 9900 Intelligence Unit.
Ofek 16 is part of a series of Israeli satellites first launched in 1988 that were designed to provide the country total control over its own defense and space needs. It is part of a constellation of imaging satellites and is similar to the advanced-generation Ofek 11 launched in 2016.
Elbit supplied the Ofek 16′s multi-spectral, high-resolution Jupiter Space camera, which is 1.5 meters long, weighs 120 kilograms and has a 700mm aperture. The resolution is 50 centimeters from an altitude of 600 kilomters, and the camera can photograph 15 square kilometers with each shot, according to Elbit.
The satellite also builds on the Ofek 5, which was launched with Israel’s Shavit rocket in 2002. Israel also maintains a series of larger Amos communications satellites.
The military reconnaissance satellites compliment the commercial Eros A and B, which were launched in 2000 and 2006, respectively, and operated by ImageSat International. These are Isreal’s only two active commercial satellites. A third is reportedly on its way. Israel does not disclose the total number of defense satellites it has in orbit, but reports indicate there are at least five other active observation satellites.
Israel’s military satellites are launched westward to a low Earth orbit of several hundred kilometers. The country can’t launch them to the east because they would go over neighboring states.
Monday’s launch was carried out during a period of rising tension with Iran. For its part, Iran launched a military satellite in April.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz praised the launch as “an extraordinary achievement for the defense establishment, for the defense industries as a whole and for Israel Aerospace Industries in particular.”
Israel is one of 13 countries with satellite-launching capabilities. Israel has worked with a number of countries on satellite technology, including Italy and France. India to Azerbaijan have also sought cooperation with Israel on satellite capabilities.
Seth J. Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has covered conflict in the Mideast since 2010 for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.