Exclusive: PM set to okay space R&D program

Israel aims to increase planned space platform sales to $8b. annually.

311_Ofek 9 (photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries)
311_Ofek 9
(photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to approve an ambitious plan to turn Israel into a satellite superpower. According to details obtained by The Jerusalem Post, the aim is to increase sales of Israeli space platforms to nearly $8 billion a year.
The multi-year plan calls for the government to annually increase support for space research and development by several hundred million shekels. This investment would focus on new platforms – primarily Israel’s niche market in “mini satellites” – intended to yield billions in sales.RELATED:Science minister meeting NASA heads to discuss cooperationOfek 9 satellite begins transmittingThe plan was drafted by a team of scientists and economists that includes Prof. Haim Eshed, head of the Defense Ministry’s Space Division, and the director-general of the Science and Technology Ministry, Menahem Greenblum.
Israel is one of the few countries that can independently develop, manufacture and launch satellites, Eshed told the Post in a recent interview.
“We have the assets, but we are not marketing them,” said Eshed.
Much of the investment will focus on the miniaturization of satellites and their payloads.
Israel’s specialty, Eshed said, lies in manufacturing “mini satellites” like the recently launched Ofek 9. These weigh just a few hundred kilograms, in contrast to the mammoth satellites of several tons operated by the United States and Russia.
Despite Israel’s advanced technology, sales of its space platforms over the last 20 years have totaled less than $2.5b. Yet the international space market, Eshed stressed, is $250b. a year, and Israel could carve out at least 5% for itself.
Israel is already in talks with several countries and defense companies about possible space collaboration. NASA, for example, is interested in purchasing the payload used in Israel’s TecSar satellite. The TecSar creates high-resolution images via a radar camera, rather than via an electro-optic camera, which enables it to see in all weather conditions, including fog and clouds.
The plan envisions stepped-up sales beginning by 2015. However, Israel will not sell its top-of-the-line payloads and platforms; these it will retain for the IDF.
The increased exports, said Eshed, would also benefit the defense establishment, due to the research and development in new systems.
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), manufacturer of the Ofek and TecSar, is looking to work together with Northrop Grumman, a leading American defense company, to jointly manufacture and sell mini satellites.
And Israel is also developing nano satellites: In the coming months, the country will launch the “Incline,” its first nano satellite, which will weigh a mere 12 kg. This prototype will serve as a relay for data transfers, but could also carry miniature cameras in the future.
Further down the road, Israel will launch another two satellites – the Amos 4 communications satellite, and the Opsat 3000, which will replace the Ofek satellite line.