TEL AVIV, Israel - Israel successfully delivered its latest spy satellite into low Earth orbit Tuesday using an improved version of its indigenous Shavit launcher, defense sources here said.
An official Ministry of Defense (MoD) notice of launch, which took place around 10 p.m. local time, is expected by midnight, once technicians ascertain initial functioning of the Ofeq-9 imaging satellite. By June 25, officials say they should be able to validate the operational capability of the 300-kilogram 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, director for space programs at Israel's MoD.
Ofeq-9 is a "twin brother" of the Shavit-launched Ofeq-7 and Ofeq-5 satellites, the former operational since June 2007 and the latter since June 2002. A September 2004 launch failure destroyed Ofeq-6, while TecSAR, Israel's synthetic aperture radar satellite, was successfully launched by an Indian rocket in January 2008 and now occupies the Ofeq-8 slot in the Israeli MoD lineup.
As of 11 p.m., 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 here said. "Right now, all I can say is the injection was very nominal and very precise. The first stage, second stage, and third stage, as well as the separation of the satellite from the launcher, performed as planned."
Ofeq-9 will operate together with the two other Ofeqs currently in orbit, and while precise imaging capabilities remain classified, sources here say all three offer resolutions "much better than" a half-meter.
Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. is prime contractor for the Ofeq satellites and the Shavit launcher, while Elbit Systems' Elop produces the high-resolution imaging camera.