Israeli space program staring at the abyss, warns CEO of IAI

Joseph Weiss blasts short-sighted government planning, lack of investment in research.

Amos 5 satellite launch. (photo credit: SPACECOM)
Amos 5 satellite launch.
(photo credit: SPACECOM)
Israel’s communications- satellite industry is about to reach its end unless the government immediately intervenes, Joseph Weiss, President and CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), warned on Sunday.
“There is an ongoing crisis in the Israeli space industry. The State of Israel is not looking at what is going around it,” Weiss said at IAI headquarters in Lod.
Weiss warned that following the scheduled July launch of the Amos 6 communications satellite and a military spy satellite, IAI’s infrastructure dedicated to constructing communication satellites will be disbanded due to the lack of any indication of future orders by the government.
Israel used to be part of an exclusive club of countries that build their own communications satellites, but more than 10 states now also can do so, including Iran, he said, adding that the Israeli space industry launches a communications satellite once every three to four years, while competitors build five to seven a year.
“Israel is investing a small amount of its GDP in space. It is far from where it is supposed to be,” Weiss said.
“What will happen after Amos 6? The field of communications satellites here will be lost.”
The satellites are used for television, as well as international Internet and phone links.
The loss of such an independent capability would have disturbing strategic implications, he said, because relying on foreign providers for satellite communications mean they can be disrupted, or compromised.
It also could negatively impact Israel’s ability to maintain independent links with the world.
Israel has eight spy satellites in orbit, though in this area, but the future is assured due to commitments by the government to build additional satellites in the future.
Experts, in February, however, warned that inadequate investment and research in Israel’s civilian space program will have a harmful knock-on effect on military space industries.
Speaking at the 11th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference, held by the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya, Opher Doron, head of IAI’s MBT Space Division, issued his own stark warning, saying: “Israel has no space policy, and we are moving backwards.”
He warned of inadequate educational and academic research to support Israel’s space agency, which could harm future technology and satellite development.
“In most of these areas, there is no significant activity occurring in the State of Israel, and I can only be jealous of foreign space agencies around the world.
“A multi-year budget is required, with a significant scope. We need mechanisms that allow us to take advantage of the budget,” Doron told the conference.
“Even the low budget of the Israel Space Agency cannot be implemented. We need to leverage the great achievements of military space programs toward civilian applications so that budgets can have double uses.
Without civilian licenses, which are the norm in the world, this simply will not work.”
The Israel Space Agency’s current annual budget stands at $15 million, matching the size of the Mexican, Swiss and South African programs.
“If we make it five times bigger, we will be like Pakistan. We are behind Iran, Spain and Argentina, and significantly behind European space agencies,” Doron said.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Abraham Assael, CEO of the institute, also described how the lifting of sanctions on Iran will speed up Tehran’s space program and missile development.
“After over a decade in which the Fisher Institute watched and examined the Israeli space industry, we can today say that without an innovative and dynamic civilian space industry, and without significant investment in research and development on the national and academic as well as industrial levels, there is no future for sustainable space industry in the State of Israel,” Assael, a former air force base and squadron commander, said.