On September 19, 1988, Israel became the ninth nation to launch an artificial moon to orbit above Earth. The satellite was named Ofeq-1. Ofeq means horizon in Hebrew.
It rode out over the Mediterranean Sea and on up to space atop a rocket called Shavit in a launch from Israel’s Palmachim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near the town of Yavne on the coastal plain near the Negev Desert.
The rocket. Shavit is Hebrew for comet. A converted Jericho II medium-range ballistic missile, Shavit previously had been test fired in May 1988 on a short suborbital flight to a splashdown in the Mediterranean Sea.
Splash Down. On September 19, 1988, the three-stage rocket flew from the Negev launch pad, carrying the small satellite to a low elliptical orbit.
The secret launch site at at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea is visible from the coast highway. Onlookers saw Shavit arch through the noon Middle Eastern sky where its stages separated and fell into the sea. The satellite Horizon 1 fell from orbit after 4 months.
Spacefaring. The satellite launch brought Israel into the international club of spacefaring nations. The previous eight international bodies to launch satellites to orbit had been, in order, the USSR, the United States, France, Japan, China, Great Britain, the combined nations of Europe and India.
Subsequently, Israel has made several launches of the three-stage Shavit from the military launch pad at Palmachim, including successfully sending some satellites to Earth orbit. [see list below]
Regional geography. Israel is a geographically tiny nation in the Middle East. At 8,000 square miles, it is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey in the United States. Its topography ranges from snow-capped mountains in the north to arid desert in the south.
Sprawling across more than 6,700 square miles, Israel’s triangle shaped Negev Desert covers about 66 percent of Israel. Negev is Hebrew for south. The resort town of Eilat is at the south end of the desert and the modern city of Beer Sheva, home of Ben-Gurion University, is at the north. The Negev climate is arid and semi-arid with 2-6 inches of rain each year.
The small town of Yavne lies on the coastal plain south of Tel Aviv and north of Ashdod in an area mostly covered by sand dunes. Less than an hour’s drive south from Tel Aviv, the beach at Palmachim is a popular for sunbathing and swimming. Tel Aviv is the largest city in Israel and a hub of Israeli metropolitan life. The ancient city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Range safety restrictions require that space launches from Palmachim fly to retrograde orbits. That means the space rockets must blast off westward and fly out across across the Mediterranean Sea, rather than flying east over the neighboring Arab countries.
Timeline of Israel in space. The Israel Space Agency is established in 1982, mainly to develop military reconnaissance satellites to spy on Iraq, Iran and Syria. In 1984, Defense Minister Moshe Arens initiated a government decision to advance Israeli satellites. That resulted in Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) receiving a contract to develop the nation’s first space rocket, to be called Shavit, and it first space satellite, to be known as Ofeq, the Hebrew word for Horizon.
Israel’s space launch history:
The 343-lb. satellite Ofeq-1 was launched on a Shavit rocket on Sep. 19, 1988. It carried no camera.
The 352-lb. satellite Ofeq-2 satellite was launched on a Shavit rocket on April 3, 1990. It, too, carried no camera. Ofeq-2 flew an elliptical orbit ranging in altitude from 125 to 923 miles. It fell into the atmosphere and burned on July 9, 1990.
Two satellite launches failed as their Shavit rockets fell into sea in 1991 and 1993.
An unacknowledged launch of an Ofeq satellite on a Shavit booster from Palmachim on 15 September 15, 1994, reportedly ended in failure.
The 495-lb. satellite Ofeq-3 was launched on a Shavit rocket on Apr. 5, 1995. IT did have a camera. In Fall 2000, Ofeq-3 stopped transmitting pictures as it fell into the atmosphere and burned.
Israel purchased a launch on a European Space Agency Ariane rocket flight from French Guiana for its Amos-1 geosynchronous communication satellite. It was launched on May 16, 1996, and can broadcast television and other communication services to central and eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Launch of the Ofeq-4 spy satellite failed when the second stage of its Shavit rocket failed on January 22, 1998. The satellite had been an improved design able to send down real time intelligence photos in any weather. Ofeq-4 would have replaced Ofeq-3. The Shavit first stage seemed to lift off properly, but problems developed two minutes into the flight and the rocket with its satellite payload had to be destroyed.
Russia launched Israel’s commercial Eros A1 satellite in December 2000. The satellite, built by the company Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), transmitted data to Israeli intelligence agencies. Eros A1 was said to be similar to Ofeq-3.
The 660-lb. Ofeq-5 spy satellite was launched on a Shavit rocket on May 28, 2002 to an elliptical orbit ranging in altitude from 229 to 372 miles. The color images from its high powered cameras are capable of resolving objects as small as one meter in length. Ofeq-5 passes over Iran, Iraq, and Syria as it circles the globe.
Israel’s Amos-2 TV broadcast satellite was launched December 27, 2003, to geostationary orbit from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The satellite is located in orbit just three miles away Amos-1, which is scheduled to be turned off in 2008. The transmitter aboard Amos-2 is 50 percent more powerful than the transmitter on Amos-1. It can provide TV broadcast and communication services to homes, cable companies, and communication networks in Israel, the Middle East, the European nations of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic, and the east coast of the United States. Amos-2 also was manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). The launcher was a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket.
Israel’s Ofeq-6 spy satellite fell into the Mediterranean Sea near the port city of Ashdod after launch on September 6, 2004. The two-stage Shavit rocket seemed to have functioned properly, but third-stage boosters on the satellite apparently malfunctioned. The government had hoped this sixth and more advanced satellite would enhance its intelligence-gathering coverage, especially over Iran where Israel wants to keep an eye on the development of nuclear weapons and the long-range surface-to-surface missiles to carry them. Iran has tested a long-range Shihab-3 ballistic missile.
Israel is developing an Ofeq-7 spysat and a radar satellite known as Techstar, a radar satellite, both for launch in 2008.
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