Unless operators succeed in stabilizing the systems onboard the advanced Ofek-11 military satellite, launched on Tuesday from Palmahim Air Base, the defense establishment faces a real disappointment in its hopes to move forward Israel’s space-based intelligence capabilities.
Little is known about the Ofek-11 satellite, other than the fact that it carries a payload of an advanced Elbit Systems-made electro-optic camera, and has a sophisticated propulsion system made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which runs on hydrazine fuel.
The satellite orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, and would have given IDF Military Intelligence, as well as other defense agencies, advanced visual intelligence abilities, enabling Israel to keep close tabs on developments in areas controlled by its enemies near and far.
There can be no sugarcoating the fact that the Defense Ministry and the satellite’s maker, Israel Aerospace Industries, are worried.
Hours after the satellite’s launch, officials said that although it is in the correct orbit, unexpected errors are appearing whenever it communicates with the ground station.
To be sure, IAI is already working on future spy satellites, and Israel has five working military satellites in orbit, meaning that if Ofek-11 is lost, Israel’s eyes and ears in space will remain intact.
But years of hard work and technological progress, and much treasure, will have gone to waste.
In the meantime, other satellites will continue operating, such as Ofek-10, launched on April 9, 2014, which uses a synthetic aperture radar to generate detailed images of ground targets. Ofek-10 sends radar waves and bounces them off target areas to create vital intelligence feeds. Since radar waves pierce cloud cover, this service is available irrespective of weather conditions, or whether it is day or night.
The Defense Ministry’s Space Administration and IAI are now in a race against time to salvage the Ofek-11. It will be years before the next spy satellite will be ready for launch.