India puts Israeli spy craft in orbit

Marking a deepening of strategic ties, India on Monday launched a 300-kg Israeli spy satellite. The hush-hush liftoff to put the hi-tech Tecsar reconnaissance satellite into orbit occurred at 9.15 am at Sriharikota.

The launch using the proven four-stage Polar Satellite Lau-nch Vehicle (PSLV) was executed under a commercial contract between the Antrix Corporation, Isro' commercial arm, and the Israel Aircraft Industries.

Tecsar was placed in its designated orbit 1,185 seconds after lift off. At a press conference in Chennai, Antrix executive director K R Sridhara Murthi confirmed the PSLV flight but refused to go into specifics of the satellite.

Asked to confirm it was a spy satellite, Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair said: "As far as my knowledge goes it is a radar imaging satellite that will give features day and night through the clouds."

Apart from marking a new high in relations with Israel, the launch also puts India firmly in a lucrative and competitive satellite launch market, so far dominated by countries like France and Russia.

Murthi said the cost of the launch was Rs 55 crore. While normal rates in the international market ranged between US$ 15,000 and 20,000 dollars per kg, Antrix had charged more than 20,000 dollars because of the low weight and technical features of the satellite.

Originally the satellite was to have been launched in the first week of September 2007, prior to the International Astronautical Congress at Hyderabad. TOI had reported about launch plans at that time.

Although Nair had cited "operational reasons" for the launch delay, scientists in Mumbai said the mission was put off because of pressure from some Arab countries, with which India has always had closer political ties.

Sources told TOI the satellite was equipped with what is known as a synthetic aperture radar which will enable it to capture extremely tiny objects, putting it firmly in the category of a spy satellite.

It combines high resolution with large area coverage using a technology known as electronic beam steering. The satellite will be controlled by the Israeli defence ministry but some of the secret images taken by the satellite are likely to be shared with India, sources said.

SOURCE : The Times of India

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