The launch of the “Okef 13” satellite from the Palmachim Airbase in central Israel on March 29, 2023. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense.
The launch of the “Okef 13” satellite from the Palmachim Airbase in central Israel on March 29, 2023. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Powerful new Israeli eye in space will keep tabs on Iran

The “Ofek 13” reconnaissance satellite carries a powerful payload that enables Israel to watch sites of interest day or night, in all weather.

It was the announcement the Israeli defense establishment had been waiting to make. On April 10, the country’s Defense Ministry revealed that the “Ofek 13” spy satellite, launched on March 28, had successfully transmitted its first images.

The development was a milestone on the way to the satellite becoming a fully operational Israeli intelligence asset.

The “Ofek 13’s” key feature is its synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) on-board sensor. The SAR payload grants the craft advanced observation capability, which is not limited by many of the constraints that apply to space-based cameras, being able to capture highly detailed images even through cloud cover, or at night.

The satellite “will drastically improve Israel’s intelligence capabilities from space for years to come,” said the head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Space and Satellite Administration, Avi Berger, following the launch.

Israel’s “Ofek 10” and “Ofek 8” satellites were also equipped with SAR capability.

According to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Israel is one of very few countries to possess such capabilities. Earlier this month, he praised Israeli engineers’ “creativity, talent and consistency in addition to the hard work of outstanding professionals that took part in this operation,” vowing to “continue to prove that even the sky isn’t the limit for the Israeli defense establishment.”

A key figure in this project is Brig. Gen. (res.) Daniel Gold, head of the Defense Directorate for Research and Development. Gold described the SAR satellite as being at “the peak of global technology,” adding that the March 28 launch establishes Israel’s “superiority in the field of space yet again. It also constitutes a leap forward in operational and technological abilities for the preservation and improvement of Israel’s standing in space for the coming decades.”

The keys to the satellite are now in the hands of the IDF’s Military intelligence 9900 Unit, which will begin receiving around-the-clock images from it, and building a full operational intelligence picture.

In July 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus global pandemic, Israel launched its “Ofek 16” observation satellite into orbit from central Israel. “Ofek 16” carries an on-board camera that provides higher-resolution images than ever before.

While no additional information was offered regarding the Ofek 16, it’s worth noting that Elbit Systems’ sophisticated camera system known as “Jupiter” had been put on earlier Israeli satellites.

The camera allows for inspections of “extremely high-value targets,” and it produces higher clarity photographs of small and discrete vehicles, objects, and structures, according to Elbit’s website. In order to examine the harm done to adversary targets, it can also be utilized for “more advanced battle damage assessment” and “more detailed operational planning.”

Other Israeli satellites in orbit include the “Ofek 5,” which was launched in 2002 and is still in use today, according to Defense Ministry officials.

The series kicked off in 1988 with the launch of the “Ofek 1” (“Horizon 1”).

Israel Aerospace Industries is the prime contractor in the development of the “Ofek 13” satellite, launcher and ground monitoring system. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems developed the launch engines, together with Tomer, a government-owned firm.

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