Israel has been selected to host the International Astronautical Federation’s 66th international conference in 2015. In the thirty years since its inception, the Israeli space program and the companies serving it have made their mark on the innovative, exhilarating and increasingly international aerospace industry.
Israel’s space program was both figuratively and literally launched in the 1980s. The Israel Space Agency (ISA) saw the light of day in 1983 and its first satellite, a reconnaissance satellite named OFEK, was launched five years later. Today the range of Israeli satellites encompasses AMOS communications satellites, EROS observation satellites, TECSAR, a radar-sensing observation satellite, and OPSAT, a cost-effective, high resolution optical observation satellite. This fleet provides information and communications services which rival those of the larger and more veteran space agencies. VENUS, a commercial micro-satellite jointly developed by the Israeli and French space agencies for environmental monitoring, is scheduled for launch in 2015. Development of the SHALOM, an Italian-Israeli joint venture, is nearing completion. SHALOM enables extensive commercial exploitation of high-end hyperspectral technology to facilitate, among others, mining and environmental monitoring.
Israeli Aerospace: Commercial Propulsion
Civilian aerospace is a growth industry in Israel. Focused on the business model as much as on the technology itself, the Israeli space industry is driven by its larger companies, smaller niche players and students, for whom the design, construction and launch of functional nano-satellites and ground systems is part of the curriculum. Miniaturization, remote sensing and satellite communications are just some of the areas in which Israel has already established expertise.
The Israel Aerospace Industry (IAI) is the largest player, responsible for the development of almost all of Israel’s satellites as well as the “Shavit” launcher. It is also the lead Israeli partner in SHALOM, responsible for its satellite and ground station systems. Rafael Advanced Defence Systems is a leader in space propulsion systems for satellite and related component propulsion. Its LiteSat system comprises a constellation of low-cost high-performance earth observation microsatellites with a highly flexible ground station control system. This flexibility is reflected in the station’s ability to manage both the entire constellation of satellites and the individual satellites in the constellation. It is also evident in the way the output from the satellites can be processed, displayed and analyzed. Elbit Systems Electro-Optic (Elop) is developing remote sensing technology which can be mounted on low-orbit microsatellites and used to facilitate maritime rescue operations, piracy prevention and forest fire management
As operator of the fleet of AMOS satellites, SpaceCom is Israel’s largest satellite operator. It provides broadcasting and communications services to residential market operators, TV broadcasters, governments and corporations in ever-increasing areas of the globe. ImageSat International N.V. owns and operates the EROS A and EROS B high resolution observation satellites. The company provides real-time and archived high-resolution satellite images and related services to an international customer base. Gilat Satellite Networks, Ltd. provides products for satellite-based broadband. The company, together with Gilat Satcom, was recently awarded a three-year contract to supply satellite services to the Israeli government.
Israeli SMEs as well as the subsidiaries and associates of large international concerns, such as BAE ROKAR, Siemens and Wind River, play an important role in serving international aerospace markets. The Israeli branch of Siemens PLM developed the software which accurately modelled how the Curiosity rover would roam Mars. Ricor Systems, a galactic leader in cryogenic technology, developed the cooler for Curiosity’s mineral detector.
The range and diversity of Israel’s niche players is ever-expanding. A few examples: Rotem Industries produces durable, high-quality sapphire domes and windows. Ayecka Communication Systems specializes in solutions for the delivery of IP over satellite and video over IP over satellite. IARD develops electro-optical sensing systems, while ORBIT Communications Systems provides innovative ground station solutions for earth observation and remote sensing for environmental monitoring, oil and gas exploration and disaster control. NovelSat’s technology enhances modulation standards for satellite communications. Its system was recently purchased by the European Broadcasting Union following a successful trial at the London Olympics.
Creating Close Encounters
With shared and complementary proficiencies, Israeli aerospace is well poised to partner with its Scandinavian counterparts. One such partnership has already been struck between the Danish GomSpace and Israeli SPACECIALIST. This startup-2-startup relationship began in Tel Aviv in 2011 when Lars Alminde met Meidad Pariente at the International Ilan Ramon Space Conference. GomSpace specializes in nano-satellites, particularly of the cubesat variety. Its founders were the driving force behind the first European cubesat. GOM, by the way, stands for “Grumpy Old Men”, the endearing nickname given by the 20-year-olds to their 30-year-old managers. SPACECIALIST is an Israeli space engineering and consultancy company dedicated to promoting Israel’s civilian space industry. For the past three years it has been representing GomSpace in Israel.
The two companies are currently involved one way or another in the following four nanosatellite projects: 1) SAMSON, a Technion project designed to build, launch and operate a cluster of three interconnected nano-satellites, which will not only be launched together but also orbit together, demonstrating the efficacy of prolonged autonomous cluster flight. 2) Space Pharma, a private venture dedicated to conducting medical research in microgravity. 3) QB50, a European Space Agency project involving universities from around the world. QB50 places some 50 cubesats in orbit to gather data collectively on the thermosphere which is the layer of the atmosphere responsible for, among others, the Aurora Borealis. 4) A collaboration with Elbit Systems’ Aerospace Division on sophisticated and innovative clusters of nanosatellites.
As the commercial market expands with the development of cost-effective civilian technologies, opportunities for corporate joint venturing grow. The Horizon 2020 Space program, projects like the ESA JUICE mission to Jupiter and the GAIA exploration and mapping of the Milky Way provide convenient platforms for further successful partnering between Israeli and Scandinavian companies. In this case, not even the sky is the limit!