30 years later, Israel declassifies footage of its first satellite launch

30 years later, Israel declassifies footage of its first satellite launch

To mark anniversary of the Ofek 1’s deployment, Defense Ministry also releases photos of Syria taken by its newest spy satellite

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Thirty years after Israel launched its first satellite, the Ofek 1, into space, the Defense Ministry on Monday released never-before-seen footage of its liftoff into orbit.

The ministry also released photographs of sites located deep inside Syria taken by its newest spy satellite, the Ofek 11.

At 11:32 a.m. on September 19, 1988, the Ofek 1 — or Horizon 1 — was shot into space from the Palmachim Air Base in central Israel with a Shavit rocket, making the Jewish state the eighth country in the world that had launched objects into orbit.

“Under a shroud of secrecy, the State of Israel developed extraordinary capabilities in the field of satellites in order to preserve its comparative regional advantage and its intelligence capabilities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“Today, 30 years after the historic launch, we are revealing, for the first time, footage of the launch of the Ofek 1 and photographs from the Ofek 11,” the ministry said.

The Ofek 1 satellite, the first Israeli satellite, which was launched into orbit on September 19, 1988. (Defense Ministry)

The Ofek 1 — known originally as the Oz, or valor — was a relatively simple solar-powered satellite designed to perform tests and collect data on the earth’s magnetic field and the environment in space. The octagonal satellite was built by the government-run Israel Aerospace Industries and the nascent Israel Space Agency.

It was not until seven years later, in 1995, that Israel launched a reconnaissance satellite into space capable of photographing the Earth.

Though the public knew of the Ofek 1 launch at the time, the satellite and rocketry program were largely conceived and operated in secrecy. That included keeping footage of the Ofek 1 launch under wraps.

However, marking the 30th anniversary of Israel’s first successful launch the Defense Ministry decided to declassify three videos of the launch, along with the photographs from the Ofek 11, which was launched in September 2016.

The Ofek 11 experienced some flight issues after launch, but engineers on the ground were later able to get the satellite to beam back images from space, dispelling fears that it was a total operational loss.

Boaz Levi, head of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ rockets and space division, lauded Israel for its dedication to developing satellites and other space-related technologies, saying it helped the Jewish state not only in the field of defense but also economically.

A photograph of Syria’s Presidential Palace in Damascus taken by Israel’s Ofek 11 spy satellite, which was released by the Defense Ministry on September 17, 2018. (Defense Ministry)

“Thanks to an organized program for reconnaissance satellites, led by the Defense Ministry, along with the best minds in the State of Israel, we have succeeded time and again to reach extraordinary technological achievements,” Levi said.

“Geographic requirements led us to develop small, lightweight satellites that provide pictures of incredible quality for the betterment of the security of the State of Israel. In addition to its security contributions, the Israeli space program has led to economic contributions, acting as a first-rate technological engine and catalyst,” he said.

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