The Israeli air force is upgrading its missile test range to turn it into the country's primary space centre, with launch facilities for different types of missiles and rockets.

The missile test range is part of the service's Palmachim base in central Israel. The Offeq-9, Israel's new spy satellite, was launched from there on 22 June with a Shavit launcher.

In a visit to the base a few days before the launch, the air force outlined plans aimed at enabling more launches there despite of the physical limitations of the base.

The location of the base forces Israel to launch its satellites in a western trajectory. At most facilities, launches are performed to the east to gain the Earth's velocity.

The range commander says the base is being upgraded. Among other things, a new central command centre has been built and a new Elta phased-array long-range track radar has been installed. "This radar will be more accurate than the Green Pine radar, which is part of the Arrow system," the range commander says.

The last upgrade of the base was in the 1980s and the current effort will allow more versatility. "The location of the site is problematic as it is in central Israel, near some major facilities. But this is the only site where Israel can make long-range and satellite launches," he says.

He explains that before every launch the air force and navy clear a "secure area" in the Mediterranean so that in case of a malfunction, no one is hurt from falling debris.

The range size and location have caused the air force to evaluate a pier in the sea as a solution. "We don't have another location for the space centre so we will have to be creative," the commander says.

The range is also used to test the new versions of Israel's Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile system.

Because of the high speed of the missile and the location of the base, the launch system includes a built-in, fully automatic self-destruct system that is engaged if the missile veers from its planned trajectory.

In satellite launches, a safety officer mans the "red button" that activates a self-destruction system in the launcher. The safety officer, an air force reserve pilot and colonel, is selected personally by the chief of the service, the range commander said.

Palmachim has a fully independent electric supply and 60 generators that go into action when launch time approaches.

The upgrade of the base is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

Source: Flight International