Israel launched a new reconnaissance satellite early Monday, the defence ministry said, its latest asset to be deployed against arch-enemy Iran.
“The Israel Ministry of Defence and Israel Aerospace Industries have successfully launched the ‘Ofek 16’ reconnaissance satellite” at 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), the ministry said in a statement.
The “electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities… will undergo a series of tests,” it added.
Minister of Defence and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz hailed the development.
“The successful launch of the ‘Ofek 16’ satellite overnight is yet another extraordinary achievement” for Israel’s defence sector, he said.
“Technological superiority and intelligence capabilities are essential to the security of the State of Israel… We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place.”
Neither statement gave further details on the satellite’s mission, but Israeli public radio said it would be used to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.
Israel has long sworn to prevent its nemesis from obtaining atomic weapons.
The Islamic republic denies its nuclear programme has any military dimension.
China on Tuesday launched the final satellite in its homegrown geolocation system, completing a network designed to rival American GPS as it jostles for market share in the lucrative sector.
Footage broadcast live on television showed a rocket blasting off with the satellite from a mountainous region of southwest China, which state media hailed as another milestone in the country’s space programme.
The Beidou system — named after the Chinese term for the Big Dipper constellation –- works on a network of about 30 satellites and competes with the US’s Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.
“I think the Beidou-3 system being operational is a big event,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said.
“This is a big investment from China and makes China independent of US and European systems.”
The final satellite, the Beidou-3GEO3, will help improve the network’s accuracy.
China started building the system in the early 1990s to help cars, fishing boats and military tankers navigate using mapping data from the country’s own satellites.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Iran of honing its ballistic missile skills through a satellite launch and vowed to exert more pressure.
“The United States will continue to build support around the world to confront the Iranian regime’s reckless ballistic missile activity, and we will continue to impose enormous pressure on the regime to change its behaviour,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Iran said it “successfully” launched a satellite Sunday but failed to put it into orbit, in a blow to its space programme that the US alleges is a cover for missile development.
The attempted launch of the Zafar — “Victory” in Farsi — comes days before the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and crucial parliamentary elections in Iran.
Arch foes Iran and the United States have appeared to be on the brink of an all-out confrontation twice in the past seven months.
Long-standing acrimony between Tehran and Washington was exacerbated in 2018 when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a deal that froze Iran’s nuclear programme, before issuing new demands that Tehran curtail its development of ballistic missiles.
Washington has also raised concerns in the past about Tehran’s satellite programme, saying the launch of a carrier rocket in January 2019 amounted to a violation of limits on its ballistic missiles.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a UN Security Council resolution.
On Sunday, it launched the Zafar satellite at 7:15 pm (1545 GMT) but it fell short of reaching orbit, the defence ministry said.
A ministry spokesman said initially that the satellite was “successfully” launched and went “90 percent of the way”, reaching an altitude of 540 kilometres (335 miles).
“The Simorgh (rocket) successfully propelled the Zafar satellite into space,” said Ahmad Hosseini of the ministry’s space unit.
“Unfortunately, in the final moments the carrier did not reach the required speed” to put it into orbit, he told state television.
“God willing with improvements made in future launches this part of the mission will be done as well,” he added.
“We achieved most of the goals we had and data has been acquired, and in the near future, by analysing the data, we will take the next steps.”
Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi admitted in an English-language tweet soon after that the launch had “failed”.
“But We’re UNSTOPPABLE! We have more Upcoming Great Iranian Satellites!” said Jahromi.
Tweeting in Farsi, he added: “I would have liked to make you happy with #good_news but sometimes life does not go the way we want it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted on Twitter, writing: “Iran failed to launch a satellite today. They also fail to send arms to Syria and Lebanon because we operate there all the time.”
Israel has carried out repeated strikes in Syria since its civil war erupted in 2011, mainly targeting government forces and their Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
Iran on Sunday also unveiled a new a short-range ballistic missile and its “new generation” of engines designed to put satellites into space.
The Revolutionary Guards’ website said the Raad-500 missile was equipped with new Zoheir engines made of composite materials that make them lighter than previous steel models.
It also unveiled Salman engines made of the same materials but with a “movable nozzle” for the delivery of satellites into space, allowing “manoeuvrability beyond the atmosphere”.
In January 2019, Tehran announced that its Payam — “Message” in Farsi — satellite had failed to reach orbit, after authorities said they launched it to collect data on the environment in Iran.
The United States said the launch of the carrier rocket was a violation of a 2015 UN Security Council resolution endorsing the international accord on curbing Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Resolution 2231 called on Iran to refrain from any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Tehran confirmed in September that an explosion had taken place at one of its satellite launch pads due to a technical fault, and slammed Trump for “gleefully” tweeting about it at the time.
Trump said the US had nothing to do with what he called a “catastrophic accident” at Semnan Space Centre, also tweeting a high-resolution picture pointing to apparent damage at the site.
Sunday’s developments come at a time of heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, after a January 3 US drone strike killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Iran retaliated days later by firing a wave of missiles at American troops stationed in Iraq.
Its defence forces had been braced for US retaliation when they accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight a few minutes after take-off from Tehran on January 8.
Iran says its internet services have faced cyber attacks for the past two days, without elaborating on the source of the attack or the likely motives.
The country’s on-off space programme unsettles some Western nations as the technology used in space-bound rockets can also be used in ballistic missiles.
The Islamic republic has successfully launched several satellites since February 2009.
It has also sent monkeys, a turtle, mouse and worms into space.
Russia on Tuesday launched a rocket carrying Angosat-1, the first national telecoms satellite for Angola, from its Baikonur space pad, with rare use of a rocket from Ukraine despite collapsed ties between the two nations.
Live footage aired by Roscosmos space corporation showed the spacecraft take off into the night from the freezing launch pad in Kazakhstan. It reached initial orbit shortly after.
The Zenit-2SB rocket carrying Angosat to orbit was supplied by Ukrainian maker Yuzhmash, making the launch a rare joint project between the two countries since 2014 when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
The Angosat project was agreed by Russia and Angola in 2009 and includes the satellite, its launch, and on-ground infrastructure in a suburb of the capital Luanda.
The approximately $280-million project has been financed with a credit from Russia’s state banks.
The satellite is designed for a 15-year mission to boost satellite communications, Internet access, radio and TV service.
Around 50 Angolan aerospace engineers trained around the globe, including in Brazil, China, Japan and Russia, will oversee the functioning of the satellite from a control centre built near Luanda.
The launch was initially scheduled for the summer but had been pushed back several times due to delays.
Russia initially wanted to use its new Angara rocket to launch the satellite but opted for the Zenit rocket instead, which is built by Ukrainian contractor Yuzhmash.
The project went ahead despite space cooperation between Russia and Ukraine suspended following the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Angola, which along with Nigeria, is one of Africa’s top oil producers, but many of its citizens are mired in poverty.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIA F35 rocket tasked to place its third ‘Quasi-Zenith’ satellite, Michibiki No. 3, into orbit, on Saturday.
The rocket was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, western Japan, at 02:29 pm (05:29 GMT), according to Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI) was commissioned by the government to carry the satellite into space as part of Japan’s plan to build a local version of the U.S. global positioning system (GPS) aimed to offer location information for auto-piloting of cars and possibly national security purposes.
Michibiki 3 is the third of four Quasi-Zenith satellites which are together designed to improve global navigation, augment signals around Japan and, in turn, improve communication in the case of natural disasters.