Israel launches new Ofek-13 spy satellite into orbit

By Emmanuel Fabian,
Published by The Times of Israel, 29 March 2023

Reconnaissance asset developed with Israel Aerospace Industries will provide military with better quality images than its predecessors

Israel successfully launched the “Ofek-13” spy satellite into space early Wednesday morning, the Defense Ministry said.

The satellite, the latest in a line of Israeli observation assets in space, will provide the military with better-quality images than its predecessors.

“The ‘Ofek-13’ satellite is a [synthetic-aperture radar] observation satellite with advanced capabilities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement after the launch.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hailed the launch of the Ofek-13 as “yet another important example of the Israeli defense establishment’s groundbreaking innovation.”

“Israel has already proved its diverse space capabilities many times and is one of very few countries to possess such capabilities, capabilities that we continue to develop and strengthen,” Gallant added.

A second statement from the ministry a few hours after the launch said the satellite “successfully entered orbit, has begun transmitting data, and completed an initial series of inspections in accordance with original launch plans.”

Israel’s Ofek-13 reconnaissance satellite takes off from central Israel on March 29, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

The ministry said engineers would “continue pre-planned inspections before it begins full operational activity in the near future.”

A Shavit launch vehicle shot the satellite into space from the Palmachim Airbase and spaceport at 2:10 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Residents of the area around the launch reported hearing the satellite blast off into space.

The satellite’s development and production were led by the Defense Ministry’s Space and Satellite Administration, with development involving various IDF bodies, including the visual intelligence Unit 9900 and the air force.

Israel Aerospace Industries was the main contractor involved in the project. Israel’s state-owned Rafael and Tomer defense firms produced the launch engines.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center), Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir (right) and deputy IDF chief of staff Amir Baram (left) are seen during the launch of the Ofek-13 reconnaissance satellite, March 29, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

Israel launched its first satellite, Ofek-1, into space in 1988. It was not until seven years later, in 1995, that Israel launched a reconnaissance satellite into space capable of photographing the Earth.

The Ofek-16 was launched into space in July 2020, and won Israel’s top security prize last year.

The satellites are operated by the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate. The Ofek-13 would be handed over to Unit 9900 once deemed fully operational.

Israel’s Ofek-13 reconnaissance satellite takes off from central Israel on March 29, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

“Initial indications from the satellite are very good. Within the coming weeks, we will complete technical tests and receive the first pictures before delivering the satellite for operational use by the IDF,” said Avi Berger, the head of the ministry’s space unit.

Israel is one of a small number of countries in the world that operate reconnaissance satellites, giving it advanced intelligence-gathering capabilities. As of 2020, that cadre included Iran, which successfully launched a spy satellite into orbit after years of failed attempts.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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