Jerusalem Post Sep. 6, 2004 By ARIEH O'SULLIVAN
An attempt by Israel to launch a sophisticated spy satellite into space failed Monday afternoon, the Defense Ministry announced.
Associated Press reported that the rocket exploded mid-air as it was being launched over the southern coastline city of Ashdod soon after launch at the Palmachim beach, but no injuries were reported on the ground, military officials said.
According to a statement, the rocket, known as a Shavit, failed in its third stage.
"The malfunction is being investigated by experts from the Defense Ministry and the involved industries," the statement said.
The launch took place at 1:53 p.m. local time. The Defense Ministry said it was trying to put into orbit a "remote sensing satellite." Sources in the defense industries said the satellite that exploded was Ofek 6, a satellite produced by the Israel Aircraft Industries together with other local defense industries.
The failed launch came two weeks after an Arrow 2 anti-ballistic rocket partially failed in a test to shoot down an incoming rocket with a multiple warhead.
The Ofek 6 was to have provided intelligence to Israel as it passed over Iran and the Middle East.
The launch took place secretly at the national missile testing range at an air base south of kibbutz Palmachim. The Shavit rocket, a civilian version of the Jericho II, streaked into the sky.
Unlike other countries, Israel launches its satellites into space westward against the earth's orbit. If it fails, then, the satellite won't fall into an Arab country. To do this, Israel requires a stronger rocket than one that would be fired into the earth's orbit.
The second stage proceeded as planned, but in the final third stage a malfunction reportedly sent the satellite plummeting into the sea.
Israel currently operates the Ofek 5 spy satellite, successfully launched in May 2002. It has a four-year lifespan and its producers boast it is the only satellite in its class that produces such high-resolution pictures from space. Its telescopic camera was designed by Elbit Systems. It is forward looking but has variable directionality.
The Ofek 5 downlinks with the ground station at Yehud run by IAI's MBT, the prime contractor for the Ofek 5 project.
The price of the Ofek 5 was reported to have been $60 million. The price of the Ofek 6 was not released.
Israel is only one of eight countries capable of putting its own satellites into space.
That launch followed the failed attempt to put the Ofek 4 into space in 1998. An inquiry into that secret launch found that the problem was in the booster phase, but the exact malfunction was still classified.
The Shavit is made at Israel Aircraft Industries' MLM Division plant in Be'er Ya'acov, which also makes the Arrow.
Israel has launched several satellites of different kinds, including in 1996 the Amos 1, which carries TV stations.
The Ofek 3 was launched in 1995. It had a three-year life span, but ended up operating about twice that, much to the delight of the defense establishment which otherwise would have found itself without any spy satellite after the failure of the 1998 Ofek 4 launch.
Israel embarked on its own spy satellite program more than two decades ago, when the US turned down requests for intelligence. For many years, the IDF and Defense Ministry have sought to acquire an orbital capability to monitor activities in Iran and Iraq.
After the Gulf War, then-defense minister Moshe Arens revealed that the Ofek program was designed to produce a reconnaissance satellite.