Israel today launched a powerful spy satellite to keep watch on Iran, its main threat in the region.
The TecSar satellite has an advanced radar system that should allow Israeli intelligence officials to gather material at night and in cloudy weather, a capacity beyond current Israeli satellites.
Reportedly capable of imaging with a resolution of up to 10 centimetres, TecSar is considered crucial to enable Israel to track Iran's nuclear activities. Israel suspects Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, despite conclusions to the contrary by US intelligence agencies.
Last November, a US intelligence report stated that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme, a finding that undermined hawks in the US who had been pushing for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Israel, however, has publicly disagreed with the US intelligence finding.
Israel's most advanced satellite was sent into orbit by an Indian rocket from the Sriharikota launching range in south-east India. It was the first time an Israeli satellite had been launched by an Indian rocket.
The decision to use an Indian vehicle was reached three years ago during a visit by the then defence ministry director-general Amos Yaron and marks growing Indian-Israeli cooperation. Two more satellites using Indian rockets are scheduled.
The TecSar, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), uses radar to identify targets. The use of radar marks a considerable advance on Israel's Ofek series of reconnaissance satellites that rely on cameras.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the satellite, weighing some 300 kilogrammes, was launched at 5:45am (3.45am GMT), and was successfully placed in orbit.
Scientists and engineers are now conducting tests to check the systems and gauge their performance. First pictures from the satellite are expected within two weeks.
The TecSar launch was postponed a number of times, largely due to weather conditions.
Israel operates a number of reconnaissance satellites, including Ofek 5 and Ofek 7, as well as several commercial satellites, such as the Amos and Eros series. A total of 11 Israeli satellites have been placed in orbit, a number of them still operational.
"The TecSar is the first satellite of its kind developed in Israel, and ranks among the world's most advanced space systems," IAI said in a statement.
The satellite includes an advanced imaging system based on synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, technology, the statement said. The development and launch cost tens of millions of dollars.
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