Israel’s ninth satellite lifts off

By Eric Silver, April 24, 2008

Israel yesterday was scheduled to launch Amos 3 — a telecommunications satellite designed and built by Israel Aerospace Industries — from a site in Kazakhstan.

It reinforces Israel’s status as a satellite superpower, which can also monitor Iran and its Arab neighbours without relying on other countries’ goodwill.

The satellite will stay in stationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000km, offering services to commercial clients throughout the world. Spacecom, an American service provider which will operate the satellite, announced this week that it already had orders worth $160 million (£80m).

Amos 3 joins a stable of eight Israeli communications and reconnaissance satellites currently orbiting the Earth. Israel is one of only seven countries — or in the case of Europe, groups of countries — that build their own satellites and are capable of launching them.

Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, the chairman of Israel’s space programme, told the JC: “Israel is self-sufficient in space. There are about 50 countries involved in space.

“Most of them buy their satellites from those seven. Israel is one of the seven. The world market for space services is already worth $150 billion (£75bn) a year. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have 5 to 10 per cent of that.”

Israel specialises in micro-satellites, weighing 300-400kg. “The lighter the satellite, the cheaper it is,” explained Professor Ben-Israel, a former director of research and development in the Defence Ministry.

“The launch doesn’t cost so much. The sub-systems cost less. So we found ourselves with the capability of building sophisticated satellites that are relatively cheap. The world started to show an interest.”

Earlier this year, Israel launched the TecSAR, a revolutionary surveillance satellite.

Instead of an optical camera, it uses advanced radar technology, which does not need light. It can send back high-definition images taken at night and through cloud.

With French financial support, Israel is now developing the Venus, a scientific satellite which will be put to use monitoring the environment and pollution.

“Satellites are perhaps the best source of monitoring global warming,” explained Professor Ben-Israel. “They can take photographs of fields, for instance, and identify certain diseases in plants.

“You can look at the sea with multi-spectral cameras, which can detect and identify all the chemicals in the water.

“The scientists will use those measurements in order to build or verify or change the model which can predict all these phenomena.”

Last updated: 3:26pm, May 13 2008