Failed satellite launch damages Israels spying ability

Israel secretly launched the Ofek 4 spy satellite Thursday of last week, but it failed to reach its proper orbit and it was expected to burn up reentering Earth's atmosphere.

The launch of the Ofek 4 was timed to coincide with the ending of service by Ofek 3, Israel's first spy satellite, launched in April 1995. The failure of Ofek 4 means Israel will soon be without its own "blue and white" satellite coverage.

The unsuccessful launch followed the failed August launch of the fifth test of the Arrow-2 missile and a fire last April at IAI's MLM Division plant in Be'er Ya'acov, which makes the Arrow and Shavit missiles.

The Shavit is a small satellite launch vehicle that lifts satellites to low Earth orbits. Sources close to the Ofek project said the three-stage Shavit booster rocket appeared to work as planned.

Israel launched Ofek 1 as an experiment in September 1988 and Ofek 2 in April 1990; both reentered the Earth's atmosphere within six months. Ofek 3, also referred to as EROS (Earth Resources Observation System), was designed to last two years in orbit, but has already been operating nine months longer than expected.

The Ofek spy satellite costs hundreds of millions of dollars and is the fruit of Israel's most advanced defense industries. Israel embarked on its own spy satellite program over two decades ago, when the United States 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.