Arie Egozi/TEL AVIV

Israeli armament development authority Rafael is planning to develop its Black Sparrow air-launched target missile as a micro-satellite launch vehicle. But Rafael's decision to move into space activities has caused tension with Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), the country's main space contractor.

According to Rafael, which is part of Israel's Ministry of Defence, the programme aims to modify the Black Sparrow missile so that it can launch 50-80kg (110-180lb) communication, observation and electronic-warfare satellites. Tests of the modified missile have been performed, and the first satellite test launch is due later this year.

The Black Sparrow was developed by Rafael for use in Israel's Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile programme, and is based on the company's Popeye AGM-142 air-to-surface missile. The 4.2m- (14ft) long missile has a 520mm (20in) diameter and weighs 1260kg. The target missile can be carried by Boeing F-15-sized aircraft and launched from 42,000ft (13,000m). After a 6s free-fall the motor is ignited and burns for 25s. The modified missile could be equipped with a larger motor, say Rafael sources. IAI is manufacturing the Shavit ground launched booster and Offeq/Eros type low earth-orbit satellites.

The Ministry of Defence is supporting Rafael's initiative and has tried to establish co-operation with IAI, but without success. The MLM division of IAI has presented its own plan to launch small satellites from a Lockheed C-130.

Rafael wants to become a prime contractor on at least one space programme in co-operation with IAI. Ovadia Harari, IAI's executive vice-president, says there is no sense in investing state funds in building a second space infrastructure in Rafael. IAI is willing to co-operate with Rafael, but wants to protect its space interests, he says.

• Israel's second communications satellite, Amos 2, is scheduled to be launched in September next year. The programme was started by SpaceCom earlier this month after it raised the $150 million for the satellite and its launch by an Ariane launcher. The first Amos satellite was launched in 1996 and is due to operate until 2008, but all of its capacity is being used. IAI, which is one of three Israeli partners in SpaceCom, and which manufactured Amos 1, will make the new satellite. Amos 2 will provide internet communications from the US East Coast to the Middle East.

Source: Flight International