(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Less than half the amount needed to build and operate the Amos-8 communications satellite has been collected by the government to replace the ill-fated Amos-6 satellite, whose rocket exploded at launch from Cape Canaveral in 2016.
“The state has decided to destroy the satellite communications industry, even though it’s a national need,” said Likud MK Yoav Kisch, the chairman of the Knesset Science and Technology’s subcommittee on space affairs, at a meeting on Wednesday.
“I don’t see a solution right now,” he said. “I would be surprised if there was a solution within two weeks. With the explosion of Amos-6, the Israeli communications satellite industry has also exploded. The government ministries, the communications industry and the Israel Aerospace Industries need to reach an agreement on funding in the next two weeks. In my opinion, this will not happen.”
In a follow-up discussion on the future of communications satellites in Israel, it emerged that a lack of funding led to the rental of a foreign-made satellite, named Amos-7, at a cost of tens of millions of shekels. This is expected to lead to the shelving of the Amos-8 project, Kisch said. “There are only two weeks to meet the deadline for getting the budget, and I don’t see it happening.
The project will remain on paper.”
Kisch noted, “Unfortunately, we have been discussing the subject for a year and a half since the Amos-6 explosion. We are here to see how the communications satellite industry in Israel forges ahead.”
“There is agreement regarding the relative shares of costs between the ministries, and we are prepared to add more money from the Science and Technology Ministry, but funding is also dependent on the Finance Ministry paying its relative share,” said Science and Technology Ministry director-general Peretz Wazan.
He added that the Israeli company that was supposed to make it will also have to offer a “more realistic price.”
It is still possible to save the project if all those involved “make the right decisions. We have a month to do that, until the end of February. Otherwise, we will miss the production and operation schedule targets,” Wazan said.
Israel Space Agency director Avi Blassberger added: “The sand in the hourglass is running out.”
Treasury representative Michal Gelbart said: “We have allocated NIS 14 million, [but] for any amount beyond that, other ministries must participate.”
The committee appointed by the Science Ministry on building Amos-8 made clear recommendations that NIS 70m. be allocated each year. “I understand that there is less than half of the amount recommended and this is the gap,” said Ofer Doron, director of Israel Aerospace Industries, which was supposed to build the satellite. “Just NIS 1m. more from the Science Ministry will not be enough, especially since insurance money for the Amos-6 has not come through.”
Doron noted that it takes four years to build such a satellite. “This means that to launch by February 2021, we have to arrange it all by the end of next month,” he said.
Gil Lotan, the vice president of Space Communications, said: “Of the four satellites we have led, this is the first case that the government is actively participating in the process. This requires us to raise capital under appropriate conditions and the capital market. It is not clear to us why these relatively small amounts are not agreed and supervised by the state.”