August 4, 2012: An Israeli firm is building a surveillance satellite for Italy. This bird will weigh under 400 kg (880 pounds) and will use a 600 kilometers high orbit. The Italian satellite appears to be an improved version of the Israeli Ofek photo satellite. The first one of these went up in 1988 and the latest one (Ofek 9) went up two years ago and weighs about 300 kg (660 pounds). The Ofek 9 has a new generation of sensors that are able to see objects as small as 55 cm (twenty inches).
Israel also developed its own satellite launcher: Shavit. The first two stages of the Shavit are also used for the Israeli Jericho 3 IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile). With a range of nearly 5,000 kilometers, the Jericho 3 can drop a nuke anywhere in the Middle East. Jericho is a 30 ton, solid fuel, two stage missile, with a half-ton payload. Israel sometimes uses launchers from other nations. Four years ago an Israeli radar satellite, TekSar, was launched using an Indian launcher. In addition to Israeli built Ofek and TekSar birds, Israeli intelligence also uses Eros B and Eros A (Israeli civilian photo satellite) for some military missions.
It usually takes two years for Israel to build a new recon satellite and then it requires ten months to plan and carry out the launching, using an Israeli rocket. The satellite launch facility is located at the same Palmahim Air Base where Jericho 3 ballistic missiles and Arrow anti-missile missiles are also based.
The Italian spy satellite will cost $182 million and be part of a deal where Italy agreed to buy an equal value of Israeli military gear as part of a deal where Israel bought $993 million worth of Italian jet trainers. Italy managed to cover this with the purchase of two AWACs and a spy satellite from Israel.