Israeli Spy Satellite Ofek 11 Still Shaky Two Days After Space Launch

Though satellite has reached its orbit, some systems are not working like they should, says space center head.

The Ofek 11 satellite launch in the Palmachim air base, September 13, 2016.
Defense Ministry

The defense establishment is still trying to stabilize the Ofek 11 surveillance satellite, which was launched two days ago, to get it into working condition.

A day after the satellite’s launch the defense establishment is still not sure the satellite’s systems are functioning. After it was launched on Tuesday afternoon, alerts started coming in indicating that several of its systems were not functioning.

Since then, engineers at Israel Aerospace Industries and in the defense establishment have been trying to stabilize the satellite and fix its systems, but it’s not clear if they’ve succeeded.

It may be several days until the defense establishment can say whether the Ofek 11 satellite will actually be able to provide intelligence and espionage information.

The Ofek 11 was launched from the Palmahim air base, south of Tel Aviv, at 5:30 P.M. as surveillance aircraft patrolled the nearby Mediterranean skies.

Tal Inbar, head of the Space and UAV Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies, told Haaretz last night that there were signs that the new satellite was beginning to function, but that it was too early to say whether it could be used as planned.

“Generally, the most dramatic phase in a satellite’s life is the launch. It involves lots of shaking, and things can happen in the process, which can create failures, or the satellite can even explode into pieces. Such things have happened in Israel, too,” he said. “Generally, once the satellite is in orbit, you can exhale. At this stage they’re starting the process of firing up the systems. Only afterward can the cameras start operating.”

In this case, the satellite reached its orbit, and some of its systems aren’t working like they should, he said.

Israel prefers to launch its satellites against the Earth’s rotation, toward the sea, and not in an easterly direction as other countries do.

The defense establishment gleans intelligence from about 10 satellites, including Ofek satellites made by IAI, along with commercial satellites that produce images for the Israel Defense Forces and other intelligence agencies.

The IDF said that these satellites make about 800 photographic sorties annually, filming 64,000 minutes of footage each year.

The satellite’s predecessor, Ofek 10, was launched in 2014, and the Ofek 9 was sent up in 2010.

Two weeks ago Israel lost its latest civilian satellite ahead of its launch when the launcher for the AMOS 6 blew up in Florida.