April 25, 2006

Israel to launch “eye in the sky” over Iran: report

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is set to launch on Tuesday a
highly accurate imaging satellite which will enhance its
ability to spy on Iran, a report in the mass circulation daily
Yedioth Ahronoth said.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said this week that
the nuclear program being pursued by arch-foe Iran was the most
serious threat faced by Jews since the Nazi Holocaust.

"The capabilities of the satellite speak for themselves. I
do not need to say anything about what the purpose of its use
might be," Shimon Eckhaus, the chief executive of manufacturer
ImageSat International told Reuters.

The Eros B satellite has a camera which can decipher
objects on the ground as small as 70 centimeters (about two
feet) across, the report said. Eckhaus confirmed the accuracy
of the published details to Reuters.

The report said Eros B will join an earlier version of the
satellite, launched in December 2000. Both are set to augment
the work of Israel's declared spy satellite, Ofek 5, which
regularly passes over Arab territory.

The Yedioth report said that Israel was planning to send up
another spy satellite with the ability to view objects in all
weather conditions and in darkness. The Eros satellites are
effective only in daylight and in clear visibility.

The launch comes at a time of heightened tension over
Iran's nuclear program.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear
bombs and Washington has refused to rule out military options
if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic
ambitions. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed
at generating electricity.


Like its predecessor in 2000, Eros B is set to be launched
from the Svobodny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East later on
Tuesday using a Russian Start-1 rocket.

It will orbit the Earth at a height of about 310 miles and
will circle the globe roughly every 95 minutes, ImageSat said.

The Eros satellites, which weigh under 770 lb, are among a
number of small, lightweight satellites which Israel's space
industry has perfected, Eckhaus said.

Because of the country's geographical location and small
size, the space industry generally favors smaller payloads that
can more easily be launched from Israeli territory.

"The fact that we are launching the satellite in Russia
means that we can do so with the Earth's rotation and makes it
more effective and gives it a longer life span," Eckhaus said.

Israel is only able to launch small satellites westwards
over the Mediterranean Sea -- opposite to the Earth's rotation
-- because it cannot risk rockets flying over its Arab
neighbors to the east or debris falling on their territory.

The satellite manufacturer ImageSat International is partly
owned by government-held Israel Aircraft Industries, the
country's biggest defense company.