Newly Launched Israeli Spy Satellite Transmits Back First Photographs

Defense establishment still reluctant to comment on condition of the Ofek 11 satellite, which encountered difficulties after takeoff.

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

Ofek 11, the Israeli spy satellite that recently took off to a rocky start, transmitted back its first photographs on Thursday.

The Defense Ministry said on Thursday that the satellite will provide operational and intelligence information to the defense establishment, but was reluctant to clarify whether these will be as was originally planned.

"We don’t tend to speak of the condition of Defense Ministry satellites, for better or worse," said Amnon Harari, the head of the Defense Ministry's space administration.

The photographs received from the satellite are "exceptional" and as were initially expected by the defense establishment, he added. However, he declined to say that the satellite is working flawlessly and that all of its systems are functioning as planned.

The satellite was launched last week from the Palmahim air base south of Tel Aviv. After it was launched on Tuesday afternoon, alerts started coming in indicating that several of its systems were not functioning.

The defense establishment gleans intelligence from about 10 satellites, including Ofek satellites made by Israeli Aerospace Industries, 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.

At 5:10 P.M. local time on Thursday, the Ofek 11 satellite's designated equipment was turned on, and its first photos were transmitted, the ministry said.

"Testing the satellite is very complex, and takes a lot of time. We overcame it in a way that enables us to receive excellent photos," Harari said. "There were a number of anomalies at first and yet we reached [a point] where it takes exceptional photos."

Ofer Doron, the head of Israel Aerospace Industries' space program, said that "there was a combined effort with the space administration and the brightest technological minds, who worked together to reach the very impressive achievement in the form of the photos that were transmitted today."

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