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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Israel's space program (Scientific American)

Pretty cool:
The Israeli space program is a minuscule operation compared to NASA or the European Space Agency—not surprising for a nation with about the land area and population of New Jersey. “The Israeli Space Agency does not have its own industries,” Hershkowitz says. “It’s just a very small body that coordinates in the activities of the other industries, and also coordinates between the civilian and the military applications.” To do that, he says, the agency has an annual budget of about $50 million. Israel’s presence in space is defined primarily by a network of Earth observation, communication and reconnaissance satellites. But Hershkowitz notes that his nation takes the overall enterprise of scientific research quite seriously. Israel leads the world in terms of percentage of GDP spent on research and development, and he notes that by some criteria its space program is fairly advanced:

"In fact, nowadays Israel belongs to the very exclusive club of about 10 countries in the world that have all capabilities in space. When we say all, I mean producing satellites, both the bus and the payload, launching them and communicating with them. There are only about 10 such states in the world, and Israel belongs to that exclusive club."

Hershkowitz estimates that “close to half of what we invest nowadays in space has to do with scientific applications and civilian applications,” such as monitoring water pollution and soil conditions for agriculture. But he acknowledges that Middle East turmoil will ensure that reconnaissance remains a top priority:

"I think that Israel will continue to be in a leading position in observation satellites, and that’s because of our strategic needs. With observation satellites, of course I would focus on the TecSAR satellites, which are based on radar. This is today the cutting-edge technology; Israel is very much in a leading position. Some of the abilities are still even secret, because you don’t want to reveal the ability of what you can see through."
This is about Israel's official space program. It doesn't even cover the Israeli entry for the Google Lunar X Prize competition. Here's their webpage, although I don't see any recent updates.

(h/t Brian at Israellycool)