Cautious optimism on Ofek 11 surveillance satellite

Ofek 11 launch: Photo: Defense Ministry
Ofek 11 launch: Photo: Defense Ministry

Israel's Defense Ministry sources believe that despite possible malfunctions, it will be possible to stabilize the satellite launched earlier this week.

Defense sources today expressed optimism about the situation of the state-of-the-art Ofek 11 Israeli surveillance satellite, which was launched into space from the air force's trial field at Palmachim. Yesterday, three hours after the satellite was launched with a powerful Shavit rocket, defense sources expressed concern about malfunctions liable to disrupt its functioning. Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) manufactured the satellite for the Ministry of Defense.

The 400-kilogram satellite, equipped with an advanced camera from Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT), is designed to enhance Israel's intelligence gathering capabilities in areas of interest by providing high-quality images of small objects. The Ofek 11, one of the most advanced satellites developed and manufactured at IAI's MABAT division, is designed to give Israel's intelligence system another eye in space.

"The satellite is definitely not lost"

The launch of the satellite - a difficult and perilous task in itself - was successful. Shortly afterwards, it entered its orbit for circling the earth every 90 minutes at a height of 600 kilometers. A few hours after the launch, however, when it was spotted at the IAI ground station in Yehud, and a number of orders were transmitted to it in the course of testing its functioning, the Ministry of Defense received alarming indications of a malfunction.

The Ministry of Defense and IAI declined to specify the circumstances of the malfunction, but had trouble concealing their anxiety. "It is still unclear whether everything is in order," Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) head Brig. Gen. (Res) Amnon Harari said. "We are working to stabilize it. There are indications that things are happening other than what we expected - technical details within the satellite. We are not completely optimistic, nor are we completely pessimistic."

According to IAI/MBT CEO Ofer Doron, it will take several days to tell for sure whether the satellite's systems are functioning properly. Defense sources explained that several days were needed in order to monitor the functioning of the satellite's systems at Ovda, which it overflies every 90 minutes on its way around the earth. When it passes over its ground station, it can be contacted for a few minutes while orders are being transmitted and messages received; the information is then processed and analyzed by many engineers.

Launched in the framework of the Ministry of Defense's regular work program, the Ofek 11 was designed to ensure high-quality intelligence coverage even in the event of a failure in the satellite's launching or functioning. Israel has other intelligence satellites in space - both observation satellites and radar satellites from the Ofek series - capable of providing high-quality visual information about various field conditions all over the world, even at night and in difficult weather conditions. "The Ministry of Defense has a multi-year program managing a quantity of space satellites, I won't say how many, and more satellites are being built," a defense source said.

Today, almost 24 hours after the launch, defense sources were more optimistic about the fate of the Ofek 11: "The satellite is definitely not lost. Communication is taking place between it and the ground station, and there is cautious optimism about yesterday. In any case, we will not be blind," one of the sources said.

Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies Space & UAV Research Center head Tal Inbar told "Globes" today that assessment of the malfunctions in the satellite was likely to continue for a few days, until it is possible to start generating solutions. "A satellite is a very complex system, based on electrical, computer, orientation, photovoltaic cells, antennas, batteries, and other systems. All of these systems have to work perfectly. When there is a single malfunction, it affects all the rest of the systems, and vice versa," Inbar explained. "In the past, there were cases around the world in which satellites suffered from malfunctions of some kind, and worked for years at reduced capacity, such as research missions or remote sensing tasks. Sometimes you learn to live with the limitations. As I said, in this case, it's too early to tell."

Two weeks ago, the Amos 6 satellite, developed and manufactured for IAI by Spacecom Satellite Communications Ltd. (TASE:SCC), exploded in Florida, following what appeared to be a malfunction in a Falcon 9 rocket being refueled for launching. For still unclear reasons, the rocket on which the satellite had already been installed in the framework of the preparations for launching it exploded and caught fire. There is no connection between the malfunction in the Ofek 11 satellite and the explosion of the Amos 6, other than a proximity in time and coincidence.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on September 15, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

Ofek 11 launch: Photo: Defense Ministry
Ofek 11 launch: Photo: Defense Ministry
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