Israel’s Ofek 5 satellite provided vital intel for years until mysterious fault rapidly degraded photos’ quality; top scientists were at a loss until young major develops solution, saves State of Israel NIS 500 million ($135 million)
By Akiva Novick
The aviation industry’s top experts were doubtful, the Defense Ministry‘s scientists incredulous, but Yanki, a young, driven IDF officer holding the rank of a major, developed a unique model that saved the vital Ofek 5 satellite from ruin and put it back in operation.
Along the way he also singlehandedly saved the State a sum near NIS 500 million.
The events transpired a few years ago, but were only revealed on Wednesday evening, when Major Yanki was honored in a ceremony for Jerusalem College of Technology’s graduates.
“The satellite Ofek 5, which was in space for many years and supplied good intelligence, just started spattering and provided pictures in rapidly deteriorating quality until they were nearly unusable,” recalled Colonel (res.) Shai Gilboa, then commander of the satellite’s development team in the Defense Ministry and currently the CEO of the Jerusalem College of Technology.
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According to him, all attempts to even understand the problem failed.
But Yanki, a new major, fresh out of the IDF’s academic reserves, took all the experts to school. He devised a theory which determined the fault was due to erosion in the satellite’s cameras, caused by temperature variations in space, and developed a model which simulated the necessary focus changes with the aid of a mathematician, a fellow colleague in his office.
But the Israeli space experts were skeptical. “All of Elop’s (the firm which builds the satellites) scientists and engineers insisted it could not be,” Gilboa explained.
“They said he ‘solved a problem which doesn’t exist.’ But he was not deterred and stood by his theory until he proved it in the lab.
“In retrospect, it was found out he understood way more than they did,” Gilboa jibed. ” The theory was presented to the Defense Ministry directors and they were convinced to try and change the cameras’ focus from the ground.
“To our surprise, it fixed the camera.”
Speaking at Wednesday evening ceremony, Major Yanki (whose full name remains confidential) said: “The seriousness, professionalism and determination I learned both in class and in Torah studies. I believe the truth will out.”
But the implementation of Yanki’s theoretical model was not simple. “It’s a very delicate procedure which entails many risks to the satellites,” Gilboa explained.
“Many scientists preferred to use the low quality photos and not risk a complete loss. Others wanted to disconnect and abandon the satellite. He fought everyone for months, and after he proved his case the satellite became operational again (and still is until today – A.N)
“The model took several months to develop. Scientists said it’s the same level as the model which was developed to fix the Hubble Space Telescope. But in that case, many millions were invested and teams of experts worked together, and here the model was written by one young, driven officer,” Gilboa said.
Following the events, Yanki quietly received the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure’s Award for Creative Thinking – the Defense Ministry’s most prestigious award.
On Wedensday, Gilboa gave him a certificate from the Jerusalem College of Technology – dubbed the “Kipa-wearers’ Technion” – which held a ceremony in honor of graduates and staff for their contribution to the IDF and to Israel’s security.
Many of the college’s graduates hold key roles in the defense industry and won citations and awards from the IDF and Defense Ministry for their work.
View original Ynet publication at: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4394929,00.html