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Arie Egozi

The Israeli Ministry of Defence plans to order a large number of Nano and Micro satellites that will be launched into space to form “Swarms” which according to experts will enhance Israel’s capability to get near real time image intelligence of preparations for the launch of a ballistic missile. The plan is to use the micro and nano satellites to achieve a continuous coverage of areas “of special interest” by a high rate of revisits with these small and relatively cheap satellites operating in parallel with Israel’s full size spy satellites of the OFFEQ series.

All Israeli spy satellites have been manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a capability which has been achieved by massive investment in the company’s space division. According to the critics, the MoD overlooks these massive investments and has asked for a proposal from Rafael, another state owned company, that so far has manufactured only small space subsystems. The MoD declined to comment.

Satellite Options

Some years ago, Rafael unveiled a satellite concept that weighs less than 220 pounds, about a quarter of the current OFFEQ series, and still delivers 23 inch resolution images. The price of such a Nano satellite is expected to be around US$20m. The low orbit spy satellites from the OFFEQ series, visit “areas of interest” in big intervals and their optical or radar payloads cannot keep a persistent watch over these areas.

Israeli sources say that some 30 minutes are needed from the command to prepare a ballistic missile for launch until it is ready to fire (if the protection silos are well equipped). Such a short time, when the enemy is aware of the “visiting” time of the satellites, can be the perfect trick to avoid the detection of the preparations for, and the launch itself, when the burn of the missile engines makes it a very clear target for space based infra-red sensors.

In the past , when the idea was first brought up, one plan was to launch the satellites using a launcher that will be carried to a very high altitude by a combat aircraft, but now it seems ground launchers will be used to carry many of these small satellites into orbit.