Israel’s first ‘academic’ nanosatellite to be launched on Wednesday

5kg satellite to study climate changes and other scientific phenomena

Israel from space 1 (photo credit: NASA/BARRY WILMORE)
Israel from space 1
(photo credit: NASA/BARRY WILMORE)
The first nanosatellite to be built by an Israeli university, BGUSAT, will be launched into space on Wednesday to conduct scientific missions for Ben-Gurion University. Hardly bigger than a milk carton, it will be launched on the PSLV launcher from the Satish Dhawan launching pad in India along with 103 other nanosatellites.
It is the result of a five-year joint project of the university, Israel Aerospace Industries and the Science, Technology and Space Ministry. The tiny satellite, just 10x10x30 centimeters in size and weighing five kilograms is outfitted with innovative new cameras that can detect climate phenomena and a guidance system that lets the operators choose the areas to shoot and research through a special ground station at BGU.
It is the first time any Israeli university will have access to data from an Israeli nano-satellite for research purposes. Its unique orbital path close to Earth’s atmosphere will enable researchers from BGU and Tel Aviv University to study scientific phenomena such as the Earth airglow layer. BGUSAT’s cameras will allow researchers to position the satellite to take a variety of pictures from different angles in each orbit if so desired, rather than having to maintain a single shooting angle.
Through the BGUSAT cameras, researchers will track atmospheric gases like CO2 to understand climate change, to examine changes in ground moisture that could be an indicator of desertification or to monitor plant development in different regions.
Three years after the project was initiated, construction began at IAI’s space division.
“This is another step in advancing cooperation between the government, industry and academia in order to promote the Israeli space industry,” Science Minister Ofir Akunis said. “Only such collaboration with government backing will preserve the Israeli space industry’s global standing and will promote research and create new jobs, all while safeguarding the essential interests of Israel.”
A nanosatellite is an intriguing new tool for academic scientific research, according to Prof. Dan Blumberg, BGU’s vice president and dean for research and development.
“Nanosatellites enable space engineering and space research at costs that are affordable for academia,” he said. “The reduced costs make it possible for academia to assume a much more active role in the field, taking advantage of the innovation and initiative of researchers and students.”
Satellite engineering is a constant balance between conservative and innovative thinking. Since large satellites are so expensive, not many risks can be taken that might jeopardize their mission. Nanosatellites, since they are much cheaper, offer a larger arena for space innovation. For BGUSAT, students and researchers were encouraged to think of new ways to build it and the systems installed in it.
BGU’s Earth and Planetary Image Facility is one of just five NASA Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIF) outside the US. The closest facilities are in Italy and Japan.
IAI space division head, retired colonel Ofer Doron, said: “We are proud to be part of an innovative technological project, which opens up the world of nanosatellites to new and varied scientific missions. For the first time, a dedicated computer with computing power similar to those of the larger satellites, but developed specifically for nanosatellites by the space division, has been installed.
“This computer has already been integrated into the SpaceIL spacecraft and the three Samson satellites.
In addition, the space division and MicroGic Electronics have developed a unique camera that works in the short infrared range and can photograph a large array of weather phenomena.”
Doron added that “the nanosatellite is part of a series of educational and academic activities that we at IAI, as the national space division of Israel, consider an integral part of the Israeli space industry and are happy to lead.”
The BGU students and researchers who worked on BGUSAT integrated knowledge from a variety of fields such as software engineering, electrical engineering, planetary sciences, industrial engineering, management and more. This is the first project to showcase the enhanced space engineering capability that is being created at BGU. The goal is to be able to answer a call to build a nanosatellite from scratch “in house.”
Following the satellite’s launch, the space agency has allocated an additional NIS 1 million to fund future research based on the data received from the satellite. BGU and TAU have already submitted a joint proposal to study Earth’s airglow layer.
“We expect challenging ideas from the Israeli research community,” Israel Space Agency director Avi Belsberger said. “This is the first time Israeli researchers will be able to receive information directly from a completely blue-and-white satellite without having to go through other countries or research agencies.”