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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
Israel launches spy satellite
An Israeli soldier
The eye in the sky helps those on the ground
A rocket carrying Israel's latest surveillance satellite has blasted off, enabling it to keep a closer eye on its Arab neighbours and perceived missile threats from Iran and Iraq.

The Ofek-5 satellite has reached its planned orbit of about 500 kilometres (300 miles) above the Earth, reports Israel Radio.

Ofek 5 launch
The satellite is reported to have reached its intended orbit
The launch aims to restore a key Israeli surveillance vehicle that has been missing since Ofek-3 burned up in the atmosphere about a year ago after its manoeuvring fuel ran out.

The Israeli military has been using a private satellite for its needs since then.

Major-General Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, former head of the army's research and development department, said the satellite would serve Israel's "special security interests".

"If we are speaking in the context of ballistic missiles... [intelligence] tools such as a satellite are of the utmost importance," he told Army Radio after the launch.

Israel pushed ahead with its spy satellite programme after 39 Iraqi Scud missiles slammed into the Jewish state during the 1991 Gulf War.

Information gathering

The new Ofek satellite - its name means horizon in Hebrew - was launched from the Palmahim air force base on the coast, south of Tel Aviv.

It has sophisticated cameras and sensors and is designed to help officials on the ground monitor military developments in the region.

Map of Israel showing Palmahim air force base

The satellite - which cost $60m according to Israel radio - was launched on an Israeli-built Shavit rocket.

Israel had launched Ofek-4 as a replacement in January 1998, but it failed to make it into orbit.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper said Israel was only one of eight countries capable of putting it own satellites into space.

It added that Israel began its spy satellite development after the US turned down requests for intelligence in the 1980s.

It said satellites were launched to the west, against the Earth's orbit, so that if they failed, the parts would not fall on Arab states.


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28 May 02 | Middle East
28 May 02 | Middle East
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