Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Israel Launches "Eye in the Sky" Over Iran

Ori Lewis, Reuters:
Israel successfully launched on Tuesday a highly accurate imaging satellite which will enhance its ability to spy on Iran, an official said. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said this week that the nuclear program being pursued by arch-foe Iran was the most serious threat faced by Jews since the Nazi Holocaust. READ MORE

"The launching of the satellite was successful," an official with the manufacturer ImageSat International said.

It would be established whether the satellite was operational in the coming days, Israeli media reported. The launching took place in the Russian Far East.

Shimon Eckhaus, the firm's chief executive, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday: "The capabilities of the satellite speak for themselves. I do not need to say anything about what the purpose of its use might be."

A report in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said the Eros B satellite has a camera which can decipher objects on the ground as small as 70 centimeters (about two feet) across.

Eckhaus confirmed the accuracy of the published details to Reuters.

The report said Eros B will join an earlier version of the satellite, launched in December 2000. Both are set to augment the work of Israel's declared spy satellite, Ofek 5, which regularly passes over Arab territory.

The Yedioth report said Israel was planning to send up another spy satellite with the ability to view objects in all weather conditions and in darkness. The Eros satellites are effective only in daylight and in clear visibility.

The launch comes at a time of heightened tension over Iran's nuclear program.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear bombs and has refused to rule out military options if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.


Like its predecessor in 2000, Eros B was launched from the Svobodny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East later on Tuesday using a Russian Start-1 rocket.

It will orbit the Earth at a height of about 500 km (310 miles) and will circle the globe roughly every 95 minutes, ImageSat said.

The Eros satellites, which weigh under 350kg (770 lb), are among a number of small, lightweight satellites which Israel's space industry has perfected, Eckhaus said.

Because of the country's geographical location and small size, the space industry generally favors smaller payloads that can more easily be launched from Israeli territory.

"The fact that we are launching the satellite in Russia means that we can do so with the Earth's rotation and makes it more effective and gives it a longer life span," Eckhaus said.

Israel is only able to launch small satellites westwards over the Mediterranean Sea -- opposite to the Earth's rotation -- because it cannot risk rockets flying over its Arab neighbors to the east or debris falling on their territory.

The satellite manufacturer ImageSat International is partly owned by government-held Israel Aircraft Industries, the country's biggest defense company.

The satellite's camera was developed and manufactured by El-Op, a subsidiary of Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems which has a stake in ImageSat International.