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Last Updated: Monday, 6 September, 2004, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Israel satellite plunges into sea
Launch of Ofek 6
The Ofek 6 was to be one of the most advanced eyes in the sky
An Israeli military satellite has crashed after a botched launch.

The Ofek 6 satellite fell into the Mediterranean sea near the southern city of Ashdod.

The satellite had been designed to expand Israel's coverage of distant foes such as Iran, analysts said, and its loss is seen as a major setback.

The third stage of the launch is being investigated as the source of the malfunction, the Israeli military said. There are no casualties.

The two-stage Shavit rocket launcher reportedly functioned properly, but boosters on the satellite itself failed to propel it into orbit.

Witnesses near the near Israel's national missile testing range at Palmahim reportedly saw a flash of light in the sky when the craft exploded just before 1400 (1100 GMT).

Map showing Palmahim base
Israeli army radio said the satellite was considered one of the most advanced in the world.

The satellite and its launcher were developed by a consortium led by Israel Aircraft Industries and including Israel Military Industries, Rafael, Elbit Systems and Elisra.

Military experts say its predecessor, the Ofek 5 satellite launched in May 2002, circles the earth every 90 minutes photographing objects as small as one metre in length from a height of 450km.

Ofek 3 ended its operational life in 2001, but Ofek 4 - launched to replace it in 1998 - also failed to make it into orbit.

The setback came days after Israel's anti-missile system Arrow II failed to shoot down a dummy missile off the west coast of the United States.

But Israeli officials said the Arrow test had been a success despite the missed target, as the main reason for the test was to identify the incoming missile.

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