Spaceports Around the World:

Israel's Palmachim Spaceport

Israel spaceport map On September 19, 1988, Israel became the ninth nation to launch an artificial moon to orbit above Earth. The satellite was named Ofeq-1. Ofeq means horizon in Hebrew.

It rode out over the Mediterranean Sea and on up to space atop a rocket called Shavit in a launch from Israel's Palmachim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem near the town of Yavne on the coastal plain near the Negev Desert.

The rocket. Shavit is Hebrew for comet. A converted Jericho II medium-range ballistic missile, Shavit previously had been test fired in May 1988 on a short suborbital flight to a splashdown in the Mediterranean Sea.

Splash Down. On September 19, 1988, the three-stage rocket flew from the Negev launch pad, carrying the small satellite to a low elliptical orbit.

The secret launch site at at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea is visible from the coast highway. Onlookers saw Shavit arch through the noon Middle Eastern sky where its stages separated and fell into the sea. The satellite Horizon 1 fell from orbit after 4 months.

Spacefaring. The satellite launch brought Israel into the international club of spacefaring nations. The previous eight international bodies to launch satellites to orbit had been, in order, the USSR, the United States, France, Japan, China, Great Britain, the combined nations of Europe and India.

Subsequently, Israel has made several launches of the three-stage Shavit from the military launch pad at Palmachim, including successfully sending some satellites to Earth orbit. [see list below]

Regional geography. Israel is a geographically tiny nation in the Middle East. At 8,000 square miles, it is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey in the United States. Its topography ranges from snow-capped mountains in the north to arid desert in the south.

Sprawling across more than 6,700 square miles, Israel's triangle shaped Negev Desert covers about 66 percent of Israel. Negev is Hebrew for south. The resort town of Eilat is at the south end of the desert and the modern city of Beer Sheva, home of Ben-Gurion University, is at the north. The Negev climate is arid and semi-arid with 2-6 inches of rain each year.

The small town of Yavne lies on the coastal plain south of Tel Aviv and north of Ashdod in an area mostly covered by sand dunes. Less than an hour's drive south from Tel Aviv, the beach at Palmachim is a popular for sunbathing and swimming. Tel Aviv is the largest city in Israel and a hub of Israeli metropolitan life. The ancient city of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

Range safety restrictions require that space launches from Palmachim fly to retrograde orbits. That means the space rockets must blast off westward and fly out across across the Mediterranean Sea, rather than flying east over the neighboring Arab countries.

Timeline of Israel in space. The Israel Space Agency is established in 1982, mainly to develop military reconnaissance satellites to spy on Iraq, Iran and Syria. In 1984, Defense Minister Moshe Arens initiated a government decision to advance Israeli satellites. That resulted in Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) receiving a contract to develop the nation's first space rocket, to be called Shavit, and it first space satellite, to be known as Ofeq, the Hebrew word for Horizon.

Israel's space launch history:
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