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Communications Satellite Launched : Israel Becomes 1st Mideast Space Power

Times Wire Services

Israel put an experimental communications satellite into orbit today in a launch that diplomats said was bound to enhance its military capabilities by making it the only space power in the Middle East.

The launch was believed to be the first stage of a program aimed at putting a spy satellite in orbit.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir hailed the launch as a giant technological step, saying, “It makes Israel a partner in the upper echelon of the modern technological world.”

The silver craft was sent aloft over the Mediterranean Sea south of Tel Aviv, where witnesses saw it arch and watched as booster rockets disengaged and fell to the sea.

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The launching made Israel the eighth country known to possess a rocket with the power to put a satellite into space, after the United States, France, the Soviet Union, China, Britain, Japan and India.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sought to dismiss fears that the launching would spur an arms race with Israel’s Arab enemies.

“It’s not an arms race,” Peres said on Israel radio. “The Arabs bought missiles and produce missiles and will do anything they can anyway.”

Yuval Neeman, head of Israel’s space agency, called the craft a “technological satellite” but acknowledged: “There’s military potential in all this activity.”

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He said the satellite, launched shortly before noon, rose to a height of about 175 miles and would reach an orbit of 700 miles above Earth.

“The satellite will fly for about a month,” Neeman told the radio. “Afterward, it will burn up.”

Plans to launch an experimental satellite surfaced Sunday in the Israeli media, which quoted reports in the British weekly Flight International and Time magazine as saying the test craft would precede putting a spy satellite in orbit.

Israeli leaders refused to comment on those reports.

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