On March 28, 2023, the Shavit 2 launch vehicle launched from the Palmachim Airbase launched the Israeli Ofeq-13 observation satellite into low Earth orbit. This is quite common news for our space age, but this is if you don’t know how exactly Israel has to launch its own satellites.
The fact is that Israel, unlike other space countries that have either large territories or large water spaces near spaceports, is located in a densely populated region of the Earth and, in addition, is surrounded by not very friendly countries. Therefore, unlike others, Israel is forced to launch rockets not in the eastern direction to use the energy of the Earth’s rotation, but in the western direction, which leads to a decrease in the payload that can be put into orbit.
More than that. The Mediterranean isn’t that wide if we talk about space speeds, and it’s full of islands and narrow straits, and none of its neighbors, not even allies, will be happy if spent rocket stages start falling on their territory, especially if they have toxic components.
But all this did not prevent Israel, on September 19, 1988, from becoming the eighth, smallest space state in terms of size and population, which has its own launch vehicles, its own satellites, and its own spaceport.
The Shavit 2 launch vehicle (“Comet”) that launches Israeli military satellites is a modified Jericho intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead (which Israel is known to “not have”). It is a four-stage rocket, with the first three stages being solid fuel, making it difficult to control, and the fourth stage using toxic hydrazine.
Shavit 2 can launch a payload weighing from 350 kg (retrograde westward launch) to 800 kg (normal eastward launch) into low Earth orbit. 10 out of 12 Shavit 2 launches were successful.
As for the Ofeq-13 (“Horizon”) satellite, its specifications are classified, but it is known that it is equipped with a synthetic-aperture rada and can conduct observations at night and in bad weather conditions. The satellite was developed by the military concern Israel Aerospace Industries.
Only military satellites are launched from the territory of Israel, here the country does not even trust its allies, but Israel launches communication, scientific and civilian satellites in cooperation with various space agencies and companies.
By the way, about science. Soon, tiny Israel will even get its own space telescope. NASA plans to launch a small (only 160 kg) Israeli ultraviolet telescope ULTRASAT in early 2026.