Israel’s Ofek-5 is One of Few Spy Satellites Capable of Rapid Orbital Detuning
Shortly after blasting off Tuesday, May 28, from the Palmachim Air force Base on the Mediterranean coast, Israel’s next-generation home-made spy satellite Ofek-5 was emitting its first radio signals while climbing to its planned orbit of about 500 km. In three days, the satellite’s all-weather, day-and-night cameras are scheduled to start sending back film in color from space. The 300-kilo satellite was boosted aloft by the locally developed Shavit rocket and will complete a circuit around earth every one and a half hours.
Many of the Ofek-5’s features are secret; four are unique:
1. Its orbital “detuning” ability at great speed and flexibility in obedience to ground signals. This means that inclination orbits can be adjusted in response to special war contingencies.
2. The exceptionally high resolution of its telescopic cameras, which can produce imagery of objects as small as one meter across from an altitude of 600 km.
3. The integration of all the new satellite’s systems, including the telescopic cameras, the transmitter, sensors and the auxiliary engines, all products of Israel’s military industries, El-Op, Raphael and Elisra, in a very light and compact unit at the low cost of INS.60 million ($12 million)
4. The high orbital insertion accuracy displayed by the Shavit four-stage launch vehicle, known overseas as the Jericho, bespeaks a ballistic rocket with a range of up to 7,000 km. Some years ago, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories calculated that an earlier Shavit could transport a nuclear warhead a minimum of 5,300 km, if deployed as a ballistic missile.
Israel has never commented on any of these estimates.
Ofek-5 restores a key Israeli surveillance vehicle missing since its predecessor Ofek-3 burned up in the atmosphere a year ago after four years in the sky. Its sophisticated equipment provides Israel with an invaluable eye in the sky for monitoring the region at an acutely critical period of advanced nuclear missile weaponry activity.
On May 5, Iran launched a nuclear-capable Shehab-3, while Pakistan has just completed a ballistic missile test series.
The launching of Ofek-5 by Shavit demonstrates that Israel is determined to preserve its vital edge in missiles, space and intelligence.