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Q. Are satellites launched from the Middle East? — Junior M.
A. Yes, Israel launches satellites to orbit above Earth.
The Israel Space Agency was established in 1982, mainly to develop military reconnaissance satellites to spy on Iraq, Iran and Syria. In 1984, Defense Minister Moshe Arens initiated a government decision to advance Israeli satellites. That resulted in Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) receiving a contract to develop the nation's first space rocket, to be called Shavit, and it first space satellite, to be known as Ofeq, the Hebrew word for Horizon.

Israel became the ninth nation on Earth able to launch a satellite to orbit with the blast off in 1988 of its Horizon 1 or Ofeq 1 to orbit. It flew on a Shavit rocket from Israel's Palmachim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near the town of Yavne on the Mediterranean coast. Shavit is Hebrew for comet. The rocket was a converted Jericho II medium-range ballistic missile.

Israel's space launch history:
  • The 343-lb. satellite Ofeq-1 was launched on a Shavit rocket on Sep. 19, 1988. It carried no camera.

  • The 352-lb. satellite Ofeq-2 satellite was launched on a Shavit rocket on April 3, 1990. It, too, carried no camera. Ofeq-2 flew an elliptical orbit ranging in altitude from 125 to 923 miles. It fell into the atmosphere and burned on July 9, 1990.

  • Two satellite launches failed as their Shavit rockets fell into sea in 1991 and 1993.

    An unacknowledged launch of an Ofeq satellite on a Shavit booster from Palmachim on 15 September 15, 1994, reportedly ended in failure.

  • The 495-lb. satellite Ofeq-3 was launched on a Shavit rocket on Apr. 5, 1995. IT did have a camera. In Fall 2000, Ofeq-3 stopped transmitting pictures as it fell into the atmosphere and burned.

  • Israel purchased a launch on a European Space Agency Ariane rocket flight from French Guiana for its Amos-1 geosynchronous communication satellite. It was launched on May 16, 1996, and can broadcast television and other communication services to central and eastern Europe and the Middle East.

  • Launch of the Ofeq-4 spy satellite failed when the second stage of its Shavit rocket failed on January 22, 1998. The satellite had been an improved design able to send down real time intelligence photos in any weather. Ofeq-4 would have replaced Ofeq-3. The Shavit first stage seemed to lift off properly, but problems developed two minutes into the flight and the rocket with its satellite payload had to be destroyed.

  • Russia launched Israel's commercial Eros A1 satellite in December 2000. The satellite, built by the company Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), transmitted data to Israeli intelligence agencies. Eros A1 was said to be similar to Ofeq-3.

  • The 660-lb. Ofeq-5 spy satellite was launched on a Shavit rocket on May 28, 2002 to an elliptical orbit ranging in altitude from 229 to 372 miles. The color images from its high powered cameras are capable of resolving objects as small as one meter in length. Ofeq-5 passes over Iran, Iraq, and Syria as it circles the globe.

  • Israel's Amos-2 TV broadcast satellite was launched December 27, 2003, to geostationary orbit from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The satellite is located in orbit just three miles away Amos-1, which is scheduled to be turned off in 2008. The transmitter aboard Amos-2 is 50 percent more powerful than the transmitter on Amos-1. It can provide TV broadcast and communication services to homes, cable companies, and communication networks in Israel, the Middle East, the European nations of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic, and the east coast of the United States. Amos-2 also was manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). The launcher was a Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket.

  • Israel's Ofeq-6 spy satellite fell into the Mediterranean Sea near the port city of Ashdod after launch on September 6, 2004. The two-stage Shavit rocket seemed to have functioned properly, but third-stage boosters on the satellite apparently malfunctioned. The government had hoped this sixth and more advanced satellite would enhance its intelligence-gathering coverage, especially over Iran where Israel wants to keep an eye on the development of nuclear weapons and the long-range surface-to-surface missiles to carry them. Iran has tested a long-range Shihab-3 ballistic missile.

  • Israel is developing an Ofeq-7 spysat and a radar satellite known as Techstar, a radar satellite, both for launch in 2008.
Iraq. Iraq launched a satellite on December 5, 1989, making it the tenth nation able to launch to orbit. The satellite was the 48-ton, third stage of a three-stage rocket in a flight from Al-Anbar Space Research Center 50 miles west of Baghdad. The rocket may have been a modified version of Argentina's Condor ballistic missile. Such a missile could carry a warhead 1,240 miles. Iraq also had a 600-mi.-range missile built around a Russian Scud missile.

Iran. Iran is planning to modify one of its powerful Shahab-3 ballistic missiles and use it to blast a satellite to space in the near future, according to news reports from the region.

A 44-lb. experimental satellite would be carried aloft to an orbit 155 miles above Earth. From there it would transmit a radio signal down to receiving stations on Earth. The satellite may be named Safir-313. Safir is a Persian word for emissary.

Iran has tested an upgraded version of the Shahab-3 that is strong enough to carry a warhead across the Middle East to Israel or U.S. bases in the Gulf. Its range is more than 800 miles.

Shahab-3 is not an original Iranian design. Rather, it is derived from the North Korean Nodong-1 ballsitic missile modified with Russian technology. If it were used as a weapon, a Sahab-3 missile could carry a nuclear warhead if such bombs were available to Iran.

Near the Middle East

India. In South Asia, India became the eighth nation to demonstrate it could send a satellite to orbit above Earth with the July 18, 1980, launch of the satellite Rohini 1 on a Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) rocket.

Pakistan. Also in South Asia, Pakistan on March 19, 2005, successfully test-fired its Shaheen II missile, which has a range of 1,250 miles. It's designed to carry conventional and nuclear warheads, but would be powerful enough to launch a satellite to orbit.

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