The Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI)-led ImageSat venture launched its first EROS A1 satellite aboard a Russian Start 1 booster from Svobodny Cosmodrome, Siberia, on 5 December.

The 250kg (550lb) EROS A1, based on Israel's Ofeq reconnaissance spacecraft bus, was placed into a 480km (300 mile) sun-synchronous orbit. The launch was the fourth successful flight of the Start 1 modified military missile. A prototype EROS satellite was lost in an Israeli Shavit launch failure in January 1998.

"This launch is a long awaited and most important milestone," says Jacob Weiss, ImageSat chief executive officer. ImageSat is an Israeli-US company owned by IAI, El Op (now part of Elbit Systems) and US company Core Software.

ImageSat plans to operate eight EROS satellites - A1 and 2, and B 1 to B6 - by late 2004. Offering high resolution geospatial information products and services, they will compete with Space Imaging, Orbital Sciences and EarthWatch satellites.

The first two EROS satellites will orbit the earth at an altitude of 480km, with the others positioned at 600km. Each of the satellites will complete one orbit in approximately 90min.

The company has suffered two years of technical and financial delays, but is confident of commercial success using the Ofeq-proved 0.82m (2.69ft) to 1.8m electro-optical camera.

Two further Start launches, for A2 and 3, are planned, but launchers for the remaining five spacecraft have not been selected, nor their schedule finalised.

Source: Flight International