One of the three prestigious Israel Defense Prizes that Israeli President Isaac Herzog awarded at his residence on Tuesday was for the Ofek spy satellites program. The program is led by the Space Directorate at the Directorate of Defense Research and Development in the Defense Ministry; Israel Aerospace Industries designed and built the satellites; and Elbit Systems produced the advanced space-camera payloads. 

In August 2020, the Defense Ministry released high-resolution images of the Tadmor world heritage site in Syria, taken by the satellite’s camera.

Speaking to JNS, Johnny (full name withheld) from IAI’s Space Division noted that Israeli Prize recipients are chosen by the defense minister based on recommendations by a committee seeking activity that contributes to Israel’s security. 

He noted that in addition to IAI, Elbit and the Defense Ministry, IDF Military Intelligence’s 9990 Unit, which operates the satellites, also received the price. 

“The prize was awarded for the third generation of Ofek Earth observation high satellites, which provide high-resolution images to the ground station of the unit operating the satellites,” said Johnny. The Ofek third-generation satellites have provided “significant contributions to Israel’s intelligence gathering over areas of interest,” he added. 

The satellites deliver high-quality imagery and can image large numbers of areas in a single pass, according to the source. “These capabilities include downloading the image in real-time to the Military Intelligence ground station, and the images are then rapidly distributed to its various consumers,” he explained. 

“The satellite is relatively lightweight, weighing less than 400 kilograms [nearly 900 pounds]. It is very agile,” said Johnny. 

Nearly the whole of the satellite, its parts and its sub-systems are manufactured in Israel. 

“This is a very high-end product that produces high-end images,” said Johnny. “We are overjoyed to receive the Israel Prize. It is a great honor for us to have this recognition, and of course, behind this development, there are hundreds of people involved who made their contribution.”

These include the engineers, scientists, technicians and production personnel—professionals who are “cleverly delivering and manufacturing a product of this quality,” said Johnny.

Israel Aerospace Industries‒Elta unveiled a highly advanced electronic warfare system that can detect and disrupt multiple threats, including the radars of air-defense systems. Credit: IAI.

‘The collection of images under most conditions’

IAI is also marking 20 years since the launch of the Ofek 5 satellite launch, which remains in orbit, demonstrating “the measure of reliability and quality of these IAI space systems,” he added. 

Looking ahead, Johnny noted that the company is “continuously improving and developing the systems. I think that in the future, we will be launching further satellites with even better capabilities.” 

IAI also produces satellites with radar payloads, known as SAR (synthetic aperture radars), which can image areas at night and through cloud covers or sandstorms, gazing straight through limited visibility areas in ways that cameras cannot do. 

Using both types of satellites together enables “complementary activities,” said Johnny. “Together, they allow for the collection of images under most conditions.” 

In addition to the Ofek satellite program, the Eliyahu Golomb Israel Defense Prize, named after a founding member of the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish self-defense force, will be granted to a project run by Military Intelligence’s Signals 8200 Unit, the Mossad, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and the Director of Security in the Defense Ministry, which is aimed at developing great power breakthrough capabilities. The decade-long project has seen intelligence agencies work together in daring and innovative ways while dealing with enormous technological challenges. 

A third prize was given to a project by the Mossad, the Research and Development Unit of the Defense Ministry, and defense companies aimed at preserving Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge over strategic threats. 


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