Israel went back to using its own
satellite launchers on June 11th, when they put the Ofek 7 spy satellite into
orbit. Fourteen months ago, Israel put another spy satellite into orbit, the
EROS B satellite, that was launched via a Russian rocket. The EROS is a
military/commercial photo satellite, with time available for lease (unless
vetoed by the Israeli military.) Normally, the country the satellite passes
over is given the opportunity to buy the services of the EROS as it passes
over. In the case of Iran, the Israeli military will be taking, and keeping,
all the pictures.
The Ofek 7 bird is a miracle of miniaturization,
weighing 660 pounds, but able to transmit photos that show objects as small as
two feet across, even though the Ofek 7 is 500 kilometers a way. Israel has,
for nearly two decades, built and launched it's own satellites. But using its
own rockets has not always been successful. The Ofek-6 launch failed on September
6th, 2004. The 1998 launch of Ofek-4 failed also. Ofek-3, launched successfully
in 1995, remained functional for five years. Ofek-5, launched in 2002, is still
operating, as it was designed to last for eight years. The failed Ofek-6 launch
cost Israel over $100 million. Israel has built its own boosters, based on
their Jericho ballistic missiles, but will use the cheaper and more reliable
launch services from Russia and China when it has to. However, Israel prefers
to launch its purely military satellites with its own boosters.
However, since these satellites orbit the earth
every 90 minutes, having more than one enables you to get a more continuous
look at what's going on down there. At the moment, Israel is particularly
concerned about what Iran is up to in the areas of ballistic missiles and
nuclear weapons. The Ofek satellites are mainly intended to give Israel a spy
satellite capability independent of the United States (which has traditionally
provided spy satellite data, but not always as much as Israel wanted.)
Currently, there are also several commercial photo
satellites available, that will provide pictures on demand, and for a price.
But these satellites are not always able to provide the kind of detail, and
timeliness, that Israel wants.