Israeli Space-Based Radar Set for Indian Launch
By Craig Covault, Aviation Week, September 16, 2007
Military space reconnaissance capabilities are proliferating. This week, the U.S., Israel, India, China and Brazil could advance their commercial, technological and strategic interests with new milsats set to be launched.
Once aloft, the satellites will look into each other’s backyards and try to steal each other’s customers. And they all will be watching Iran.
The missions—scheduled for Sept. 17-20—have been developed by a diverse set of companies and thousands of engineers and technicians whose efforts will benefit their respective military programs beyond the intelligence operations the spacecraft will support.
The programs show how military space is maturing around the world and, with it, the growing capability of nations to make their own decisions based on in-house space intelligence data—not massaged information from the major space powers—the U.S., Russia and China.
In a unique flight scheduled for liftoff from India Sept. 17-20, Israel’s first “Polaris/TecSat” military imaging radar satellite is to be launched along with India’s first military recon spacecraft. They will be fired into an approximately 600-km. (372-mi.) polar orbit atop the same powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
The mission, from India’s launch site on an island in the Bay of Bengal, will also inaugurate major military space cooperation between India and Israel.
If successful, the Israeli space-based radar will put Israel among the small list of nations with imaging radar reconnaissance satellites able to distinguish camouflaged vehicles from rocky terrain, for example, and to see at night and through clouds and foliage.
The launch of Polaris 1 will also provide Israel with a new capability that will be focused heavily on Iran, including obtaining data for a potential Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Although largely classified, the Israeli spacecraft’s electronically steered, synthetic aperture radar has 1-meter resolution and differing spot, mosaic and strip modes (see diagram, p. 31). These modes provide a multitude of different radar aspect angles from which to illuminate targets on the ground.
The Polaris modes should provide space-based radar imaging intelligence products that are similar in quality to the multimode U-2’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar 2A sensor, according to Jeff Grant, vice president for business development at Northrop Grumman.
That will enable its products to be used in connection with change-detection software and imagery that can be overlaid with diverse data from other Israeli space or UAV systems.
The other satellite on the PSLV/Polaris mission—the Indian Cartosat 2A spacecraft—remains secret, but carries a powerful panchromatic camera. India is already highly accomplished in the development of remote-sensing spacecraft and should be able to step up easily to higher resolution military imaging satellites.
And India is also interested in purchasing the Polaris imaging radar satellite design from Israel for its own military reconnaissance operations, which are focused heavily on Pakistan, China and, increasingly, the U.S., according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Northrop Grumman officials hope a recently signed teaming arrangement that would allow it to coproduce a modified Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) version of the Polaris/TecSat radar satellite will lead to financing from the U.S. government in the Fiscal 2009 budget.
Such spacecraft “could provide an early, though basic, capability to the Pentagon long before its massive Space Radar system reaches orbit,” says Grant (AW&ST Apr. 16, p. 26).
Within 48 hr. of the PSLV flight, the emphasis will shift to Vandenberg AFB, Calif., where the U.S. DigitalGlobe WorldView-1 spacecraft is set for liftoff Sept. 18 on board a United Launch Alliance Delta II. This will be a commercial flight with a unique quasi-commercial recon-related spacecraft.
WorldView 1 was built by Ball Aerospace, ITT and DigitalGlobe with $500 million from the Defense Dept.’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to provide imagery for specific Defense Dept. medium- to high-resolution needs. It will have up to half-meter resolution, more than 50% better than the 1 meter previously allowed for spacecraft not built as top-secret superresolution systems designed by the National Reconnaissance Office.
Then, on Sept. 19, China is to launch its joint mission with Brazil. The new CBERS 2B imaging satellite will be an upgraded version of the previous two China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellites. It will be fired into polar orbit by a Long March 4 from the Taiyuan launch site south of Beijing.
Although important for commercial remote sensing, the CBERS program is giving China and Brazil extensive data and experience with digital imaging and economic intelligence as well as military reconnaissance. It’s used heavily by the People’s Liberation Army.
The Israeli radar satellite launch follows the June 11 flight of another new Israeli imaging reconnaissance spacecraft, Ofeq-7. It has multispectral as well as higher resolution sensors. The success of Ofeq-7, and hoped-for success with the radar, would mark a major comeback for Israeli space intelligence operations. Ofeq-7 and the new radar satellite flight come almost exactly three years since a Shavit booster failure that destroyed Ofeq-6.
However, Ofeq-7, with its roughly half-meter resolution, has much greater capability than previous Israeli recons. “With this launch, we have improved Israel’s operational capabilities by dozens of percent,” says Brig. Gen. Haim Eshet, director of space programming at Israel’s Defense Research and Development Directorate.
“The intensified Israeli space drive comes amid increasing concern about Iran’s nuclear development program, Syria’s contradictory intimations toward peace talks or war, and the support both nations provide to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups,” says Israeli military analyst David Eshel on the Defense Update web site.
“One of the prime targets for Israel’s space intelligence is the growing threat posed by the Tehran regime,” he says.
“The Israeli defense ministry has placed the highest priority on detailed monitoring of Iranian efforts to obtain data on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as long-range delivery systems. High-resolution space imagery has become one of its major intelligence and reconnaissance assets,” Eshel states in Defense Update.
Israel says it’s using the 145-ft.-tall four-stage Indian booster because the PSLV can fire the 600-lb. Polaris spacecraft into a true polar orbit, which is not achievable from Israel’s Shavit booster launch site at Palmahim AB.
However, Israeli critics of the decision disagree, saying the launcher choice is based more on strengthening military ties with a major power other than the U.S.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) provided background information on the Polaris radar spacecraft to the Jerusalem Post.
“This new satellite will be a major leap for the IDF and its operational capabilities,” a senior Israeli defense official told the Post. “This will enhance our intelligence-gathering capabilities, and its successful launch will place Israel as one of the leading countries in the world in satellite development.”
The spacecraft’s radar was developed by IAI’s Elta group. It is to fly in a 400 X 800-km. orbit powered by solar arrays generating about 1,000 watts at the start of a five-year orbital lifetime.
Other IDF officials noted that although some imagery from the spacecraft over areas other than the Middle East will be marketed, the Israeli government will limit what imagery can be sold. Restrictions also will apply for licensing the Polaris/TecSat radar technology to India, and possibly also to the U.S., Israeli officials said.
Source: Aviation Week