Israel’s new spy satellite ‘not functioning’ as expected
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Israel’s new spy satellite ‘not functioning’ as expected

IAI, Defense Ministry fear system errors as they try to ‘stabilize’ the newly launched Ofek-11 recon satellite

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

The Ofek-11 reconnaissance satellite launched by Israel on Tuesday evening may be malfunctioning, officials involved in the project said a few hours after launch, though they said they have been able to make contact with the craft.

The Israel Aerospace Industries satellite was successfully put into orbit using a Shavit rocket, a locally produced space launch vehicle, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Space Department, Amnon Harari, told reporters.

However, in the hours after the launch, it was “not clear that everything was in order,” he said.

Due to the rotation of the Earth, the teams on the ground are only able to make contact with the satellite “once every few hours,” something that makes the work of the engineering teams “sevenfold more difficult,” said Doron Ofer, CEO of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Space Division.

“We have downloaded some figures, and we are now checking them. It’s not functioning exactly the way we expected, and we don’t know what it’s status is,” Ofer said.

“We are now working to stabilize it, but it will take some time because of the small amount of communication we have with it when it comes in our area,” he said.

The satellite was shot into space from the Palmachim Air Base, just outside the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion, at 5:40 p.m., Harari said.

Israel's Ofek-10 satellite takes off from Palmachim Air Base in central Israel on April 9, 2014. (Ministry of Defense and Israel Aerospace Industries)
Israel’s Ofek-10 satellite takes off from Palmachim Air Base in central Israel on April 9, 2014. (Ministry of Defense and Israel Aerospace Industries)

The Ofek-11 is an upgrade from the Ofek-10 satellite launched in April 2014. However, Ofer would not discuss what exact improvements were made to the design of the satellite to make it superior to its predecessor.

The Ofek-11 was to join approximately 10 other satellites, including the Ofek-10, Ofek-9, Ofek-7 and Ofek-5, that feed intelligence to Israel’s security forces.

The Amos-6, Israel's largest ever satellite, and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on which it was perched go up in flames after the rocket exploded on the launch pad during a static fire test at a launch facility at Cape Canaveral in Florida on September 1, 2016. (YouTube screen capture)
The Amos-6, Israel’s largest ever satellite, and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on which it was perched go up in flames after the rocket exploded on the launch pad during a static fire test at a launch facility at Cape Canaveral in Florida on September 1, 2016. (YouTube screen capture)

The launch came less than two weeks after the civilian Amos-6 communications satellite was destroyed when the SpaceX rocket carrying it exploded on the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida during a pre-launch test.

Facebook had planned to use the satellite, which was built by Israeli company Spacecom, to beam high-speed internet to sub-Saharan Africa.

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