PSLV successfully launches Israeli satellite 'Polaris'

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Chennai, Jan 21: A core-alone configuration of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) today successfully launched the Israeli satellite 'Polaris' from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota.

After a perfect lift off at 0917 hrs, the PSLV zoomed into the skies belching orange flames, and successfully placed the satellite in the intended orbit, triggering jubilation among the top honchos of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and scientists from the Israel Space Agency. ISRO sources said this was for the second-time in ten months that a core-alone PSLV, minus its strap on motors, put a satellite in orbit, after PSLV-C8 put the Italian satellite Agile in orbit in April 2007.

Polaris, a radar-imaging, remote-sensing satellite, weighs about 300 kg and was scheduled for launch in September 2007 but was postponed due to some technical hitch. In normal configuration, the four-stage, 295 tonne, 44-metre tall PSLV has strap-on boosters around its first stage and could put satellites weighing up to 1,200 kg in low-earth orbit.

In a ''core-alone,'' the six strap-on booster motors were removed and the PSLV weighs only 230 tonnes and could deploy satellites weighing up to 600 kg in orbit. This is the second commercial launch by the ISRO exclusively carrying a foreign satellite after 'Agile'.

ISRO described it as a ''secret mission'' and the media was also kept in the dark. The launch of the satellite was twice postponed last year and ISRO attributed the reasons to ''technical difficulties''. The Space Agency also vehemently denied that the launch of the Israeli spy satellite was put on hold due to alleged pressure from the US. ISRO Chief G Madhavan Nair described it as ''figment of imagination'' and said ''we are facing some technical hitches''.

''Once we overcome them, the launch will take place'', he had said last month. 'Polaris', also called TechSAR, was Israel's first Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging satellite. It could take sharp pictures of sub-metre resolution, which would boost its intelligence gathering capabilities significantly.

The satellite could be used to obtain clear images of activities on earth and would be better than those available from the Indian Remote Sensing Satellites. The microwaves sent from the SAR could penetrate thick cloud cover and dust storms and send sharp photographs to earth.

This would be Israel's first Polaris/TechSAR military imaging radar satellite, which would have night vision capabilities and would be able to see at a resolution of one metre. The satellite would be co-located, along with Ofek-7 satellite in space, which was launched from Israel in June.

Israel and India have established strong military and strategic ties, with the satellite marking the upgrade of this cooperation into space. This joint military effort is expected to greatly improve Israel's reconnaissance abilities.


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