Israel is expected to invest hundreds of millions in developing small satellites that can be launched from an airplane, enabling the Israel Air Force and Intelligence Corps the ability to gather information on specific targets on short notice, IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nehoshtan said Wednesday.

Nehoshtan was speaking at a lecture at the annual Ilan Ramon Space Conference at the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya. He outlined the needs of the Israel Defense Forces and IAF in terms of space intelligence, and said that "we need to cover large territories and to do it all the time, constantly, through a variety of sensors."

Israel needs "something like an airplane that can take off and do what needs to be done - micro satellites," he said.

Senior sources in the air force said Wednesday that Nehoshtan's speech was more than just wishful thinking, as they have been working for a year on pinning down the technical concept of micro-satellites and the missions they could carry out.

As of today, Israel is operating three intelligence satellites - Ofek 5, Ofek 7 and SAR-1. The state also purchases satellite footage from local and foreign companies.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is hoping to supply the new demand. Rafael is trying to develop micro-satellites weighing under 120 kilograms, many times smaller than ordinary satellites developed by Israel Aerospace Industries.

The new satellites will also be able to fly considerably lower than their predecessors, the company said.

Traditional satellites normally fly in altitudes of 600 to 700 kilometers above the earth, since lower altitudes would necessitate more engine use. The low weight of the micro-satellites will enable them to fly at as low as 300 kilometers, which would allow for lighter and less powerful surveillance gear.

The main cost reduction would come at the launching stage, however, since it would not necessitate buying or building expensive rockets.

Menachem Kadron, chief of Rafael's space department, said he believed that with adequate sponsorship, the micro-satellites will be operable within five years.