New Israeli imaging spacecraft deployed in orbit
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: April 25, 2006
A high resolution Israeli Earth observation satellite was delivered into orbit Tuesday on a mission to strengthen the nation's domestic imaging capability, which is heavily relied upon by Israel's national security officials. Reports say a priority for the new craft will be to spy on Iran's nuclear program and missile deployments.
The second member of the Earth Remote Observation Satellite system - EROS-B - was flown into space by the four-stage Start-1 rocket that launched from the Svobodny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East. The converted Topol ballistic missile was blasted from its wheeled mobile transporter at about 1646 GMT (12:46 p.m. EDT).
The 639-pound satellite was released from the booster's fourth stage around 16 minutes after liftoff, and officials confirmed the critical solar panels were unfurled as planned. The spacecraft was placed into the planned Sun-synchronous orbit about 316 miles high.
ImageSat International - the firm commercially operating the EROS fleet - said it would take around 10 days to check the satellite's systems to ensure their health.
"Based on ImageSat International's past experience, we expect to receive (the) first images from the EROS-B satellite within (a) few days, and we assume that full services to our customers will commence within (a) few weeks," said ImageSat CEO Shimon Eckhaus.
ImageSat's new satellite joins EROS-A already in orbit to double the company's revisit capability, which will offer customers twice as many opportunities for observations of a single location. EROS-A was launched in December 2000 aboard another Start-1 rocket.
"EROS-B joins the EROS-A satellite to provide our customers with (a) very high resolution commercial satellite constellation," Eckhaus said. "We are confident that the combination of EROS-A and EROS-B will provide ImageSat's customers with the best service."
EROS-B features several key upgrades, including a larger camera, a larger data recorder, improved pointing accuracy, and a faster communications system. Most importantly, the craft's black-and-white spatial resolution is increased to 70 centimeters, or just over two feet.
Among commercial remote sensing craft, EROS-B ranks even with most other satellites in orbit today. DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite offers customers a black-and-white resolution of about 60 centimeters, and the company's two planned WorldView satellites will produce imagery with half-meter resolution. Spacecraft fielded by GeoEye - formed by ORBIMAGE's acquisition of Space Imaging - are capable of gathering images with one-meter resolution.
The satellite's prime contractor was the state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries, which holds a large stake in the ownership of ImageSat International. The craft is touted for its on-orbit agility to quickly respond to the needs of customers, and its mission is expected to last up to 10 years. Plans call for the launch of a third-generation EROS satellite in 2009.