India launches Israeli 'spy satellite'

Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 13:15 Hrs
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Sriharikota: India's space agency ISRO on Monday successfully placed an Israeli "spy satellite" in the polar orbit after a textbook launch and reaffirmed its position among the elite group of nations capable of commercial launches - with three more orders in the queue.

The 300-kg Israeli satellite, Tecsar, was launched as scheduled at 0915 IST (Indian Standard Time) using the `core alone' configuration of the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-C10), that is, the rocket without its usual six strap-on booster motors.

The 550 million rocket weighing around 230 kg placed Tecsar within 20 minutes after a perfect lift-off from the first launch-pad at the Satish Dhawan space centre, Sriharikota, in Andhra Pradesh, about 100 km from Chennai.

"This day is a red letter day for ISRO and Antrix Corporation," Indian Space Research Organisation chairman G. Madhavan Nair told the media in Chennai after the launch. Antrix is the commercial arm of ISRO.

After the successful launch of Italian satellite Agile last year, "we once again confirmed to the world our serious presence in the satellite launch world," he said.

He said India has the capability to launch satellites weighing between 100 kg to 2.5 tonne in lower orbits and up to 1.5 tonne in geo-transfer orbit (GTO).

ISRO bagged the Tecsar launch order amidst stiff competition for other players in the field.

"Technically, it was a difficult launch demanding development of sophisticated navigation systems," Nair added.

Earlier, an ISRO spokesman told IANS from the launch site: "The spy satellite was placed into its intended orbit with a perigee (nearest point to earth) of 450 km and apogee (farthest point to earth) of 580 km with an orbital inclination of 41 degree towards the equator."

Tescar, also referred to as Polaris, is a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology satellite. The design, development and fabrication activities of the satellite were carried by MBT Space, a division of Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), with the participation of other hi-tech industries such as ELTA, Tadiran Spectralink and Rafel.

Queried about the carriage fee, Antrix Corporation executive director K.R. Sridhara Murthi said: "We charged more than the market rates that range between $15,000 to $20,000 per kg."

According to Nair, there was no agreement signed with the IAI to use the images taken by the satellite.

Speaking about the forthcoming launches, he said Antrix had signed three more launch customers. "The launches will be of micro/nano satellites for a client in the Netherlands, the University of Toronto of Canada and Cosmos International of Germany."

These satellites will piggyback on Cartosat-2 mission in three months.

Nair said ISRO's hands were full with launch mission this year with five or six launches in the pipeline.

He said the moon probe, called Chandrayan I, was slated during the early part of this year though the launch month was not finalised. "We have all the instruments on hand. Sometime in the middle of February we will finalise the moon mission launch date."

It will be followed by GSAT using ISRO's second rocket called Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV). "The rocket will use an ISRO-developed cryogenic engine," he added.

ISRO targets around 80 launches during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2007-12).

Nair said ISRO was also actively seeking cooperation with other countries in launch missions.

The launch of the Israeli satellite had been kept under wraps by the Indian space agency. Amid opposition from many countries in the Gulf and from Pakistan, the launch was scheduled in September 2007 but had been put off to October. It was then rescheduled for January 2008.
Source: IANS
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