Israel to invest NIS 600 million to develop space technology

Israel plans to spend 600 million shekels over the next five years to support the civilian space industry and support new companies that develop advanced technologies for the space sector, according to a detailed program presented this week by the Israeli Space Agency to the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology.

The plan was presented as part of what the ministry called a “dramatic shift” in the space industry over the past few years, as the company moved from the exclusive domain of governments to civilian investors and contractors. . This development recently resulted in the world’s first private mission to the International Space Station, which featured three private astronauts, including an Israeli, who fully funded their trip to the tune of approximately $50 million each. .

Israel’s Beresheet lunar landing mission in 2019, and the second mission scheduled for 2024, are also seen as part of the nascent civilian space industry.

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Israel is backing a number of promising space technology start-ups, including Helios, which is developing technology capable of producing oxygen for fuel from lunar soil, and Ramon.Space, a company that builds systems supercomputing for the space sector.

Israel Space Agency’s plan hopes to ‘enhance the strength and independence of the State of Israel by positioning it as one of the world’s leaders in the space industry’, leveraging space technology for growth economy as part of Israel’s technology industry, and to “improve Israel’s international status”.

Among the goals presented by the agency are doubling the number of Israeli space companies from the current 60 to at least 120, quadrupling the number of people employed in the space industry from 2,500 to 10,000, increasing the number of space science researchers in universities and strengthening Israel’s presence in international space organizations.

Illustration of the lunar extractor technology developed by Helios, which the startup hopes will produce oxygen on the moon (Credit: Courtesy)

The plan includes the creation of a national space-based center that will enable the integration and use of space technologies “within the activities of the government and other entities”, according to the announcement, and the facilitation access to space for Israeli entrepreneurs to test their technologies through the annual launch of an Israeli satellite to a region of space called low Earth orbit (an orbit relatively close to the Earth with an altitude ranging from 200-300km to 1600km).

The initiative also plans to expand the Tevel program, in which middle and high school students participate in space-related projects, such as the construction of satellites, and to support the SHALOM satellite initiative (Spaceborne Hyperspectral Applicative Land and Ocean Mission), in collaboration with Italy, whose commissioning was scheduled for 2021.

Orit Farkash-Hacohen in Tel Aviv, April 27, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“The civilian space industry is experiencing a global revolution,” Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen said in a statement that the Times of Israel was able to consult. “There is enormous economic and business potential for the Israeli economy and for Israel’s high-tech industry. »

Hilla Haddad-Chmelnik, director general of the ministry, told the Times of Israel that “the global space industry is experiencing a major revolution. This industry has doubled in size over the past decade and is expected to grow to an estimated $1 trillion in the coming years.”

Israel has “serious advantages in this area, especially in the defense sector. Therefore, we must now act to promote the civilian space sector and connect it to the currently booming Israeli high-tech sector. The strategic plan led by the Israeli Space Agency will help meet this challenge. The space sector is booming and touches every aspect of our lives – this strategic plan is part of an important process to elevate this industry.״

Haddad-Chmelnik said space was “moving from the hands of governments into the hands of the private market, and that represents a huge opportunity” for Israel.

Israel’s Space Adventures

Over the past five years, Israelis have engaged in a number of prominent space-related projects.

In 2021, Tel Aviv University staff and students launched a nano-satellite they built into Earth orbit, a one-of-a-kind small satellite intended for information gathering and testing.

In 2017, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) launched a nano-satellite (called BGUSAT) into space to perform scientific missions for researchers, the result of a five-year project developed by BGU , Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space.

NSLComm, an Israel-based aerospace tech start-up that has developed a space-stretching nano-satellite to boost connectivity capability, launched its first satellite, NSLSat-1, in 2019, in part of the payload of a Soyuz rocket.

TAU-SAT1, the nano-satellite developed by Tel Aviv University. (Credit: Tel Aviv University)

Also in 2019, the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet, co-developed by the SpaceIL organization and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), crashed on the surface of the Moon and shattered the country’s dreams of placing an Israeli lander on the satellite of Earth.

The budget for the first spacecraft was $100 million, a fraction of the cost of vehicles launched to the moon by the major powers of the United States, Russia and China in the past. It was a collaboration between SpaceIL and IAI, but was funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists, including Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, and others.

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before it crashed into the moon on April 11, 2019. (Credit: Courtesy of SpaceIL)

The mission dubbed Beresheet 2, scheduled for 2024, would aim to break several records in world space history, including a double Moon landing in a single mission by two of the smallest landing craft ever launched into space, weighing each 120 kilograms, half of which is fuel.

The landers will be launched onto a spacecraft in orbit, then detach to undertake the second part of their mission. One of the landers will attempt to land on the far side of the Moon, which only China has managed to do so far, and the second spacecraft is expected to land on a site on the Moon that has not yet been determined.

Last month, Israeli private astronaut Eytan Stibbe and three other astronauts splashed down off the coast of Florida after spending two weeks aboard the ISS on a historic mission for the commercial sector, marking the end official of the first fully private mission to the orbital outpost.

The mission is also seen as a turning point in US space agency NASA’s goal of commercializing low Earth orbit.

Stibbe and his three crewmates – American real estate magnate Larry Connor, Canadian financier Mark Pathy and veteran Spanish-American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria – took off on April 8. Axiom Space paid SpaceX for transportation services and NASA for use of the ISS, while charging the three tycoons $55 million each for the privilege.

This photo provided by SpaceX shows the SpaceX crew seated in the Dragon ship Friday, April 8, 2022, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Israeli Eytan Stibbe is on the right. (Credit: SpaceX via AP)

They were originally scheduled to spend only eight days on the space station, but bad weather imposed repeated delays. In total, the crew spent 17 days in orbit, including 15 on the ISS.

SpaceX, owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, now regularly flies NASA astronauts to and from the space station.

Earlier this year, the Israeli government signed on to a NASA-led space program aimed at landing astronauts on the lunar surface and establishing a long-term human presence on the moon as a run-in for future missions. towards Mars.

Shoshanna Solomon and The Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.

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