Exactly two years ago, the military “Ofek 10” satellite was launched from Palmahim AFB. In commemoration of the launch which added another member to the group of Israeli satellites floating around in space, we set out for a quick look at the world of satellites in the IAF and what the future has in store

September 19, 1988. Following a long development period, the military “Ofek 1” satellite is launched and becomes the first Israeli satellite in space. The launch of the intelligence gathering satellite was a significant breakthrough, brought advanced technology and consisted of an unwritten statement of the Israeli intent to enter the space age. Over the years, Israel has established its position in the field, developed different systems and expanded the “Ofek” satellite series.

“Ofek 10”, the most recent satellite in the series, was launched from Palmahim AFB this week two years ago. Now, all that remains is the question of when will the next Israeli satellite be launched to space and what are the challenges ahead?

“Satellites enable us to deal with every theatre and threat”

The launch of the “Ofek” 1 Satellite | Photography: Shalom Bar Tal

Israel: a world leader in the military satellite field
The IAF’s full name is “The Air and Space Arm”. In Israel in general and the IAF in particular, there is a common understanding that the Israeli Space Program holds strategic significance and it enjoys the position of a world leader in the field.

“Satellites are a tool which allow us to look beyond the horizon, see and investigate all of our areas of interest and best deal with the theatres and threats we deal with”, explains Maj. Guy, Head of the Advanced Signals Intelligence and Space Department in the IAF. “Satellites enable communication anywhere and anytime. They are a power multiplier and garner a large amount of products for the force”.

The Israeli satellites add another layer to the interpretation of the aerial image which is carried out by intelligence units in the IAF and IDF, which hold great importance in the strategic and tactic aspect for the strength of Israeli security. “The Israeli satellites’ life span is long and we enjoy their products for a long time, but we are working on improving the resolution and availability and want to advance in to diverse fields of knowledge”, shares Maj. Guy. “The main challenge in the field is launch. We must consider the launch area and make sure that no debris falls, so everything has to be very calculated”.

“Satellites enable us to deal with every theatre and threat”

The launch of the “Ofek 10” Satellite | Photography: Ministry of Defense & Israel Space Agency

PRVT. Yam, a satellite expert
Alongside the photography satellites, the IAF operates other satellites whose missions cannot be revealed, however Yam Eshbel’s story, CEO of the first Student Satellite Project, who serves as an Officer in the Satellite Department of the IAF Material Directorate, we can share with pride.

On June 19, 2014, the project’s engineers, with Eshbel Among them, entered a Russian military base and waited for the launch of the first Israeli Nano-Satellite which was launched alongside other Nano-satellites from around the world.

The launch of the “Duchifat 1”, whose main goal is to be an educational platform for students and to motivate students to take part in space studies and also to be part of a search and rescue network that picks up distress signals in areas isolated from communication infrastructure, might have been the peak, but Eshbel’s story began two years prior.

In high school, Eshbel attended the Science Center in Herzliya, where generations of students worked long hours for years on completing an ambitious project that was already in its final stages of theoretical research that preceded the construction of what the future Israeli Nano-Satellite would be.

“In the first class that was called ‘Satellite and Space’ with Dr. Anna Heller, I met an energetic woman who introduced herself as Doctor of Astrophysics. During the first 15 minutes of class, she went over the material for the next three years and dedicated the remaining 30 minutes to presenting the satellite”, recalled Eshbel. “She said that she isn’t looking for genius students, but for those with a sparkle in their eyes, those who will view the project as a vision and those who will give the project their all. I decided to join because of that sentence”.

From the moment he joined the project, Eshbel began dedicating much of his free time to building the innovative Nano-Satellite. He came twice a week, at the expense of his free time and served as a mini-engineer, so simultaneously with his social life and exams which occupy every average high school student, he was responsible for making the “Duchifat 1” vision a reality. “As a kid I found space interesting, but I never thought I would actually work in the field, definitely not today”, he admits and remembers his draft, when he was recruited to be integrated in the IAF Technical Division.

Today, Prvt. Eshbal serves in the IAF Satellite Dept. and is surrounded by experienced Officers and career servicemen, but that doesn’t stop him from being a satellite expert with personal experience which contributes added value to the department. “It turns out that the Israeli space community is quite small, so we were easily recruited by the former head of the department”, he concludes. “Today I see myself staying here for years ahead”.