Israel Launches Sophisticated Spy Satellite TECSAR

Israel yesterday launched a new sophisticated satellite, the TECSAR, which could boost its intelligence gathering capabilities regarding Iran.

The satellite, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), was sent into orbit from the Sriharikota Launching Range in India using an Indian rocket. It uses radar to identify targets under adverse weather conditions including dense clouds. As such, it differs from Israel's other reconnaissance satellites, the Ofek series, which rely on cameras.

"This satellite joins a long list of satellites developed and launched by IAI," Yitzhak Nitzan, head of IAI, said. "To date we have launched 11 EROS, Ofek and Amos satellites, seven of which are in orbit."

IAI officials said that the satellite, which weighs some 300 kilograms, was launched at 5:45 A.M. Israel time, and was successfully placed in orbit. IAI ground stations reported receiving signals at 7:10 A.M. showing that all measuring parameters were operating correctly. But confirmation that all its systems are functioning properly is expected in 13 days, when permanent communications are established with a base in Israel. Officials in the security establishment said the long waiting period stemmed from the sophistication of the satellite's systems that could spot an object the size of a license plate or "even smaller."

Last May, Israel launched its Ofek 7 satellite at the Palmachim base in central Israel. It was also designed by IAI and was carried into orbit by the Israeli "Shavit" rocket.

The TECSAR launch was postponed a number of times in the past, largely due to bad weather conditions during the local monsoon period. The rocket used in the launch was the 15-story Indian-made PLSV that weighs 295 tons. It can carry a payload into orbit between 500 to 36,000 kilometers from earth. During its launch, the rocket sheds its tanks and interstage ring at a distance of 110 kilometers from earth to reduce its weight and escape the gravitational pull.

The Ofek 5 was launched in May, 2002, and the Ofek 7, last July, from the Palmachim missile range on Israel's coast. Israel intends to launch another two spy satellites as part of its strategic cooperation commitments, as well as seven other satellites for commercial use. IAI has recently revealed its advanced spy satellite, the OPTSAT 3000, and an upgraded version of the Amos model that will be able to provide commercial and military services.

Analysts say the launch further established Israel's place among the world's leading nations in satellite technology.