Israel launched the country’s first environmental research satellite on Wednesday morning from a launch site in French Guiana, in a joint venture between the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and its French counterpart CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales).
The satellite took flight from South America at 4:58 a.m. Israel time, and was broadcast live on the Israel Space Agency website.
The VENµS satellite’s goal is to obtain high-resolution photographs of specific sites to track environmental issues such as desertification, erosion, pollution, natural disasters, and other phenomena linked to climate change.
The camera on the satellite takes photographs in 12 wavelengths, more than are discernible to the human eye. The high resolution — plants can be distinguished as little as five meters apart — makes possible “precision agriculture,” in which farmers would be able to accurately plan for water, fertilizer, and pesticide needs.
The satellite uses an Israeli-developed electrical propulsion system that allows it to navigate with more accuracy than older satellites.
VENµS, which stands for “Vegetation and Environment Monitoring on a New Micro Satellite,” will be able to take repeated photos of the same spot in the same light conditions (accounting for the position of the sun), allowing for more accurate tracking of changing environmental issues. This is called “heliosyncronis orbit” because it requires taking a photo of the same coordinates while the sun is in the same position. Previously, satellites have been able to provide heliosyncronis photos every 10-15 days, while the VENµS satellite will allow for comparable photographs every two days.
It is the first time that Israel is launching a satellite to focus on agricultural and ecological research. The satellite can record data about the status of the land, snow cover, foliage, forestation, agriculture, and quality of water sources, among other things.
The satellite is considered a “microsatellite,” weighing just 265 kilograms (584 pounds) with a wingspan of just 4.4 meters (14.4 feet) when the solar array is expanded. After two days, the satellite will reach its orbiting level of 720 kilometers (447 miles) above the surface of the earth.
The satellite will circle the earth 29 times in each 48-hour period and will stay in commission for 4.5 years, at which time it will move to a lower orbit. The first satellite images are expected just five hours after launch, though they will be released to researchers in November. The satellite will focus on monitoring 100 pre-chosen spots for the first 2.5 years.
The Israel Space Agency, part of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space, has invested NIS 5 million in research projects based on the satellite images that will be produced.
The satellite was launched at the same time as OPTSTAT-3000, an observation satellite for the Italian military. Arianespace, a private launch systems company founded in 1980, launched both satellites. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) built both of the satellites in Israel.