As quietly as possible, Israel’s security services and navy are making a determined effort to recover the Ofek-6 surveillance satellite which plunged into the Mediterranean Monday, September 9, instead of going into orbit around the earth. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, revealing this top-secret operation, report that on the day of the failure, contact was made with a company that maintains specialist vessels for laying optic fiber cables on the Mediterranean Sea bed with the help of robots capable of descending to a depth of 6 km and bringing objects up to the surface. That is the maximum depth of the relatively shallow Mediterranean.
The vessels also carry equipment for picking up sound emissions at great depth, while calling on satellite positioning for mapping locations.
The urgency of the search is prompted by four considerations:
The satellite dropped no more than 100-200km from its launch base at Palmahim; there, the water is shallow enough to make the search and recovery easy.
Unless it was damaged when it struck the water’s surface, Ofek-6 may well be recovered with its outer coating intact. This coating is designed to protect the capsule for a long stay in the extreme temperatures of space, but not for prolonged immersion under water. Any parts saved can be recycled for the production of Ofek-7, substantially shortening the process and making the launch of a second satellite to join Ofek-5 possible in an estimated 10 months instead of two years.
Ofek’s batteries were designed to recharge from the sun and cannot function long under water. As long as they are working, there is a chance that the satellite’s instruments will send out signals to facilitate the search.
Most important, Israel would prefer that no foreign power reach the satellite first and get a chance to examine its top-secret secret homemade instruments. There are plenty of Dutch, French, Russian, Norwegian and Swedish ships capable of hunting and even recovering the missing satellite. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources stress that Israel would rather the Americans not beat them all and get a chance to examine the satellite’s technology. Notwithstanding the close military and intelligence ties between Israel and the United States, not all the image-recording and surveillance capabilities of its spy satellites are shared. On the American side, too, there are reservations. They could easily have helped Israel short-cut its search by handing over data from US satellites which tracked the lost Ofek’s launch and pinpointed its precise location. No offer of such assistance has come from the United States.