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Ofek [Horizon] / Imagery Intelligence

Israel Aircraft Industries began developing satellites in the early 1980s, with a decision that was most pretentious at the time – to develop a high-resolution satellite for imaging purposes. The OFEQ satellites would address the State of Israel’s national needs and relieve the country of its dependence on foreign satellites. Following the peace treaty with Egypt, when Israel could no longer send aircraft over Egyptian territory to monitor activities in the Sinai desert, "We decided to develop space satellites, but it took time," says retired Maj. Gen. Itzhik Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Industry (ISA), previously the head of R&D at Israel's Ministry of Defense. And since Israel's strong ally, America, does not sell its reconnaissance satellites to anyone, the country had to build its own. "We developed our own indigenous capabilities, and once we did this, the next natural step was other applications in the industry," he adds.

The Ofek / Ofeq satellite carries a remote sensing payload that enables it to perform its high-resolution observation missions for national needs. IAI, Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd developed and produced the satellite and its launcher in cooperation with other high-tech industries including IMI- Israel Military Industries, Rafael, Elbit Systems and Elisra Group in response to an order placed by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

OFEQ continues IAI/ MBT’s tradition of unique lightweight satellites that provide high-resolution images. OFEQ's light weight allows for maximum agility over target to yield rapid image acquisition. It acquires images in swaths ahead of satellite trajectory, beneath it and lateral to it. IAI/MBT Division is the prime contractor for The Israel Space Agency. It houses the OFEQ satellite ground control center. This facility serves as the National Space Center for the State of Israel. Israel’s space heritage was acquired at IAI/MBT Division, not only in observation satellites, but in communications satellites, as well.

Ofeq 1 (Horizon 1) was an experimental 157 kg satellite launched by Israel to demonstrate its capability to launch small satellites. Launch was from a site in the Negev desert. The spacecraft operated successfully for nearly four months, until re-entry on January 14, 1989. Solar panels provided a power capability of 246 watts, but the average power consumption of the spacecraft was 53 watts. Spin period was one second. Telemetry was in the S-band, at 2.5 kbits/sec. This launch on a Shavit booster made Israel the eighth nation to launch a satellite on its own rocket.

Israel's second satellite, the 160 kg Ofeq 2, was launched via a Shavit booster from Yavne launch facility in the Negev desert. The experimental scientific satellite tested two-way communications, remote control, and onboard system performance in a space environment. Built by Israel Aircraft Industires for the Israeli Space Agnecy, Ofeq 2 was an octagonal prism, measuring 2.3 m tall, 1.2 m wide at the bottom, 0.7 m wide at the top. Body mounted solar cells supplied 246 W of power. Telemetry was transmitted via an S-band communications system. It reentered earth's atmosphere on July 9, 1990.

Despite some reports, Ofeq 1 and Ofeq 2 were not imaging satellites, but demonstrators for some of the non-imaging technologies used later.

ImageSat International N.V. is a commercial supplier of high-resolution satellite imaging services and imagery products. The Company's principal business focus is the licensing and training of autonomous regional co-operators of EROS satellites, called Satellite Operating Partners (SOPs) and Exclusive Pass on Demand (EPOD). In the geographic regions where ImageSat has provided an SOP exclusive access to an EROS satellite camera, the Company is unable to provide imaging services from that footprint. In areas not exclusive to a SOP, the Company offers a variety of services.

The vast majority of ImageSat's Customers are partners in one of the Company's exclusive end-user license services.

  • The Satellite Operating Partner (SOP) Program enables the exclusive use of an EROS satellite camera, when the satellite is over a defined geographic footprint. Through ImageSat's unique SOP program, it is possible for a government or regional organization to acquire a completely autonomous, regional high-resolution imaging capability, without the prohibitive cost and risk involved in developing a national space program.
  • The Exclusive Pass on Demand (EPOD) program enables the exclusive use of an EROS satellite camera on a selected passes, when the satellite is over a defined geographic footprint. Through ImageSat's EPOD program, it is possible for a government or regional organization to acquire a completely autonomous, regional high-resolution imaging capability, without the prohibitive cost and risk involved in developing a national space program.
  • The Priority Acquisition Service (PAS) Program provides Customers with high-priority tasking by ImageSat of an EROS satellite and exclusive ownership of imagery acquired. PAS services are based on a volume of imagery to be acquired during the term of the contract.

ImageSat also offers acquisition services with a non-exclusive end-user license, for all types of customers. EROS Imagery Package - The most popular non-exclusive imagery acquisition service is the EROS Imagery Package, which enables an organiztion to cost-effectively acquire a specified volume of high-resolution imagery tailored to the specifications of a given tender or project.

OptSat 1000

This series is the pioneer of electro-optical imaging satellites. Two satellite families are derived from this series: Ofeq 3 and EROS A. The satellites are 250 Kg, 3-axis-stabilized, carrying a high resolution remote sensing payload. The technology implemented in this family was a vanguard in terms of performance and its level of autonomy. The satellites can be controlled from single or multi Ground Control Stations.

The 225-kilogram Ofeq 3 was an Israeli surveillance satellite that was launched westward by a Shavit launcher from the Palmahim launch site. It was the first generation of Israeli samll satellite bus being marketed by Israel Aircraft Industries and MLM System Engineering and Integration, and carried a light-weight electro-optical scanner, and astronomical experiments. It was an octagonally shaped cyclinder, with two deployed 1.8 sq m panels. Launched 1995-04-05 for the government of Israel, by one account this satellite performed perfectly for six years, imaging more than a hundred thousand high-quality images. As of July 1997, Israel was negotiating with Thailand over supplying imagery from Ofeq-3. It was reported in June 2002 that Ofeq-3 ceased operations in late 1999.

In the field of observation satellites, IAI/MBT Division manufactures the EROS (Earth Resources Observation Satellite) series of commercial high resolution observation satellites for ImageSat International (ISI) Ltd. EROS A is the first in Imagesat International's planned constellation of polar orbiting, sun-synchronous satellites. On December 5, 2000, ImageSat International N.V. successfully launched its first satellite, the "Earth Remote Observation Satellite" - EROS A - aboard a Russian Start-1 launch vehicle. In so doing, ImageSat became the first non-U.S. company, to successfully deploy a commercial high-resolution imaging satellite. EROS satellites are designed to maximize operator flexibility in the creation and adaptation of the daily image acquisition plan. EROS 's high maneuverability enables it to be quickly pointed to image customer-specified sites on Nadir or at oblique angles of up to 45 degrees. Oblique viewing enables the satellite to view virtually any site on earth as often as two to three times per week. EROS A is equipped with a camera whose focal plane of CCD (Charge Coupled Device) detectors produces a standard image resolution of 1.9 meters with a swath of 14 km at Nadir (perpendicular to the surface) at an altitude of ~500 km, and sub-meter resolution using hyper-sampling techniques. The data transmission rate is 70 Mbit/s. The anticipated lifespan of the EROS A satellite is fourteen years.

In 2002 the OFEQ-4 satellite was lost due to a post lift-off malfunction. Ofeq-4 failed to reach orbit due to a malfunction in the second stage of the rocket. It fell into the Mediterranean Sea near Malta. It was to be a replacement for Ofeq-3. Cost of the satellite and rocket was $50 million.

OptSat 2000

The technology implemented in the OptSat 2000 is a breakthrough, in terms of weight to performance ratio and its levels of autonomy. The OptSat 2000 satellites can be controlled from single or multi Ground Control Stations.

Israel launched its fourth reconnaissance satellite, the OFEQ-5, on 28 May 2002. Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), in cooperation with other Israeli hi-tech industries, launched its OFEQ-5 satellite, by means of the Israeli SHAVIT launcher, developed and produced by IAI/ MLM Division. OFEQ is a three-axes stabilized, lightweight satellite platform, adapted for high-resolution observation, scientific, or, technological payloads. The satellite circles the Earth, from East to West, every hour and a half, at an approximate angle of inclination 143 degrees. OFEQ is designed to operate at altitudes between 370 and 600 km above the surface of the Earth. Its projected life-time is approximately four years. OFEQ belongs to the class of small and lightweight satellites. Its launch weight is about 300 kg, has a height of 2.3 meters and 1.2 meter diameter.

By early 2004 Israel was considering an offer by India to lease the Ofeq-5 military satellite. India proposed paying a fee for a link from Israel's new Ofeq-5 satellite, said to have a high resolution imagery of 0.5 meters. The issue was raised during the visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to New Dehli in September 2003. Israel had never provided foreign access to any of its Ofeq spy satellites, the first of which was launched in 1988. But Israeli officials said sharp cuts in the Defense Ministry and the close strategic relations with New Dehli have led to an Israeli review of its policy. India and Israel had signed a space cooperation agreement that envisioned Israeli cooperation in a range of Indian satellite projects. India was said to have experienced obstacles in developing advanced remote imagery payloads for its satellites.

On 06 September 2004 at 13:53 hrs p.m, an unsuccessful attempt was made to launch into orbit a remote sensing satellite. The source of the malfunction in the third stage was investigated by experts from the MOD and the involved industries. One of its four directional engines malfunctioned and the rocket and payload crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Ofek-6 was intended to replace Ofek-5. Ofek-5 would function for a few more years, and it was estimated that another replacement satellite can be put in place in time if the necessary funds are available. The failure of the Ofek-6 cost approximately $50 million.

On April 25, 2006, ImageSat International N.V succesfully launched its second satellite the "Earth Remote Observation Satellite" - EROS B - aboard a Russian Start-1 launch vehicle. The orbital period of the EROS satellites, for one revolution around the Earth, is 94-96 minutes. The satellite completes approximately 15 revolutions around the Earth every 24 hours, with two daylight passes per day through the footprint of a typical Ground Receiving Station. Slightly larger and similar in appearance to EROS A, the new satellite has superior capabilities, including a larger camera of CCD/TDI type (Charge Coupled Device/Time Delay Integration), with standard panchromatic resolution of 0.70 m at an altitude of about 500 km, a larger on-board recorder, improved pointing accuracy and a faster data communication link. The expected lifespan of the EROS B is fourteen years. EROS-A, and EROS B, the first in the constellation, are operating simultaneously in heliosynchronous orbits, providing ISI's customers short re-visit times.

Ofeq 7 is an Israeli, 300 kg military reconnaissance microsatellite that was launched by a Shavit rocket westward (retrograde) from its coast at 23:40 UT on 10 June 2007. In the days following the launch, the first clear images were received from the satellite, confirming the performance and capabilities of Ofeq 7's subsystems.

While refusing to divulge detailed performance data of the new satellite, defense officials claim that Ofeq-7 has by far the most advanced satellite Israel has sofar launched into space. Israeli defense officials hinted that Ofek-7 would grant Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) unprecedented operational capabilities. In this context, ''With this launch we have improved Israel's operational capabilities by dozens of percentage points. This is due to improvements made to the satellite we now have better coverage in the skies'' said Brig. Gen. Haim Eshed, director of Space Programming at the Defense Ministry Research and Development Directorate (MAFAT).

On 22 June 2010 Israel successfully launched a spy satellite atop one of its own rockets. The satellite, Ofek 9, was produced in Israel and is set to circle the globe in low orbit 15 times a day. Launched by the homegrown intercontinental Shavit rocket, the Ofek 9 lifted off from a military range southwest of Tel Aviv. Israel is the only nation that launches against the Earth's orbit because it would not want any payload to land in an Arab country. The intelligence camera on board is considered more advanced than Israel's other four satellites currently in space. Israel is just one of nine countries that can produce and launch its own satellites. They have not always been successful and in 2004 the launch of the Ofek 6 failed. The Israeli Air Force operates the Ofek 9, which will enhance its efforts to monitor Iran and other states.

It was reported in February 2010 launch of the 330-kilgram Ofeq-8 is planned for summer 2010 [note that Ofeq-9 and Ofeq-8 appeared to have been switched around launch-date-wise]. Some accounts reported that Ofeq-8 belonged to the same generation of two earlier electro-optical satellites, Ofeq-5 and Ofeq-7. But the Ofeq 8 designation was used for the TecSAR synthetic aperture radar satellite launched by an Indian rocket on 21 January 2008. TecSAR was renamed “Ofeq 8” just before the Ofeq 9 launch, possibly to overcome the “curse of even-numbered Ofeq satellites”, failing to reach orbit.

OptSat 3000

In June 2007 IAI/MBT Space Division, the Prime Contractor for Israel's space programs, unveiled its third generation, low weight, very high performance optical observation satellite, the OptSat 3000. OptSat 3000 presents a breakthrough in terms of weight to performance ratio, achieving high agility, very high quantities of widely spread images in each satellite pass, and high levels of autonomy. OptSat 3000 is based on a new generic small platform which can accommodate various types of payloads. OptSat 3000 contains Panchromatic & Multi-Spectral (MS) imaging cameras, sharing a common optical assembly and capable of simultaneous operation and the creation of Pan-sharpened images.

The satellite can be controlled by a single Ground Control Station and it may serve multiple users. The satellite is designed for a mission life of more than six years. OptSat 3000 follows IAI's OFEQ observation satellites series, which carry optical telescopes, performing high-resolution observation missions for national needs. OFEQ's three-axes stabilized, lightweight and very agile satellite platforms enable to acquire high quantities of accurate images in each satellite pass. Optsat 3000 is a three axis stabilized, autonomous satellite, designed by a low weight, low power, and high reliability concept. High geolocation accuracy and an excellent weight to performance ratio. The Optsat 3000 offers:

  • High resolution
  • High geolocation accuracy
  • Simultaneous panchromatic and multi-spectral imaging capability
  • High image quality
  • Low weight - 400kg enables a wide range of launching options
  • High agility - the low weight and compact dimensions of the satellite also result in low inertia, allowing for high agility, which enables achieving a very high number of images, widely spread, in one satellite pass
  • Designed for a mission life of more than six years
  • Based on the IMPS II Bus

It was reported in May 2011 that the 400-kilgram Ofeq-10 is based on the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) OPSAT-3000 basic model. The Jupiter camera will be capable of 0.5-meter panchromatic resolution and 2-meter multispectral resolution. Swath width is 15-kilometers from a 600-kilometer altitude. Ofeq-10 would be the largest Israeli reconnaissance satellite launched to date at around 400 kilograms and by 2012 was said to be ready sometime in 2013. According to Israeli sources, the upgraded Shavit was now capable of launching a satellite as heavy as Ofeq-10.

Tel Aviv announced on 09 April 2014 the launch of ‘Ofek-10’ spy satellite from a base south of Tel Aviv by the state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), which built the system for the Israeli military. Previously, Israel had launched the Ofek-9 spy satellite in June 2010.

Israel launched a new Ofek 11 satellite on 13 September 2016, but later said the new device was not acting in “the expected manner.” “The satellite entered an orbit around the globe, was contacted, and its systems are being analyzed,” the Defense Ministry said. Amnon Harari, director of the ministry’s space administration, later said the satellite “isn’t acting exactly in the expected manner,” and that efforts were underway “to stabilize it,” without elaborating. An Israeli security official said the Ofek 11 is the country’s “most sophisticated spy satellite to date.”

ImageSat International N.V., a global leader in end-to-end geospatial solutions, and Terran Orbital Corporation, a leading aerospace provider of nanosatellite and microsatellite vehicles, services, and solutions, announced in Decemer 2017 that ISI had contracted Terran Orbital to develop a high-performance microsatellite, RUNNERTM, to be used for earth observation and imaging.

RUNNER will feature performance and mission characteristics enabling it to support the establishment of a high-revisit constellation for ISI, which will complement its EROS-B very high-resolution satellite and the high-performance, ultra-high resolution OPTSAT-3000 satellites currently under procurement from Israel Aerospace Industries. RUNNER will provide ISI with wide swath multi-spectral video and imagery, with a spatial resolution better than 1 meter, high bandwidth communications, massive-capacity recording, and high throughput onboard processing capability.

“The RUNNER programme is an essential part of our space segment invigoration plan, where, starting with EROS-C and RUNNER, we will deploy advanced sensor layers and couple them with our exploitation and intelligence services,” said Noam Segal, CEO, ISI.

“The contract with ISI for the development of RUNNER is an important step for Terran Orbital. The RUNNER will demonstrate the agility of our microsatellite platform, enabling unique imaging missions by combining high image resolution with exceptional spacecraft agility.” said Anthony Previte, CEO, Terran Orbital.

On their choice to create a strategic partnership, Segal continued, “Terran Orbital has a superb technical team and is the leading provider with a well proven record in squeezing high-performance architectures into small satellite platforms. We look forward to expanding our cooperation further.” Previte added, “ISI has a unique product within the earth observation community, and we are thrilled about the opportunity to work with such a world-class organization.”

The RUNNER constellation is scheduled to launch into a sun-synchronous orbit starting in early 2019. Terran Orbital is a leading aerospace provider of nanosatellite and microsatellite vehicles, services, and solutions. Terran Orbital develops advanced technological solutions for customers focused on achieving leading edge space-based results. Through its Tyvak brands, based in the U.S. and Europe, Terran Orbital partners with customers to produce advanced mission solutions at industry leading turn-times and price-points.




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