Israel's Shavit (Comet) launch vehicle first flew on 19 September 1988, placing the Ofeq 1 engineering technology satellites into LEO. The third flight of Shavit was postponed in early 1994 until 1995, in part, due to budgetary constraints. Shavit is a small, 3-stage, solid propellant booster based on the 2-stage Jericho 2 ballistic missile and developed under the general management of Israeli Aircraft Industries and in particular its MBT System and Space Technology subsidiary. Israel Military Industries produces the first and second stage motors, while Rafael is responsible for the third stage motor. The demonstrated payload capacity is 160 kg into an elliptical orbit of 207 km by 1,587 km with a highly retrograde inclination of 143.2 degrees. Shavit was proposed to launch an American commercial recoverable spacecraft (COMET) which would have required a payload of 800 kg or more inserted into a low altitude orbit (References 99-101).
The upper stage of the Shavit is designated AUS-51 (Advanced Upper Stage) and since September, 1 992, has been offered commercially under a cooperative venture by the Israeli firm Rafael, which developed and manufactures the AUS-51, and the American Atlantic Research Corporation. A much more capable upper stage is under development by Israeli Aircraft Industries for much larger launch vehicles with a GEO objective. Called the Cryogenic Transfer Module (CTM), the stage burns liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to produce a thrust of approximately one metric ton. CTM is designed to lift a 2.1 metric ton satellite from a 200 km, 28 degree parking orbit to GEO and was scheduled to be ready for flight by the end of 1992 but was still awaiting a mission as 1994 came to a close (References 102 and 103).
In 1993-1994 Israel proposed the development of an improved Shavit launcher called Next, which would be available to the international commercial market. The standard 3-stage Next launch vehicle would differ little from Shavit and could deliver up to 400 kg payloads to polar orbits from launch sites outside Israel. A 4-stage variant of Next is envisioned with extended first and second stages and a new liquid propellant fourth stage equipped with a GPS receiver for greater orbital insertion accuracy (References 104-106).
Shavit boosters are launched from an undisclosed site near the Palmachim Air Force Base on the coast of Israel south of Tel Aviv. The facility is also sometimes referred to as Yavne. To prevent overflight of foreign territory, Shavits have been launched on a northwest trajectory over the Mediterranean Sea, passing over the Straits of Gibraltar at the west end of the Mediterranean. This procedure significantly reduces the payload capacity of the launch vehicle and severely limits potential operational orbits.
99. J. Simpson et al, "The Israeli Satellite Launch", Space Policy, May 1989, pp. 117-128.
100. C. Covault, "Israeli Rocket Proposed to NASA For U.S. Commercial Booster Project", Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1 October 1990, pp.100-101.
101. S. Fisher, " Israel Joins Up", Space, January-February 1991, pp. 12-14.
102. "Atlantic Research Corporation and Rafael in Israel Announce Cooperative Effort on AUS-51r, news release by ARC and Rafael, Virginia, 2 September 1992.
103. "JAI Space Activity Accelerates", Israel Space Research and Technology Information Bulletin, Vol. 7, No. 1,
104. C. Covault, "IAF Highlights New Israeli Booster", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 17 October 1994, p. 25.
105. P.B. de Selding, "ISA Petitions for Boost in Budget", Space News, 17-23 October 1994, p. 8.
106. T. Pirard, "Israel Invests in Space Technology", Spaceflight, April 1994, p. 121.