Israel is looking to build upon its military and defense industry expertise to gain a foothold in the burgeoning commercial space market, and the country hopes to move beyond its current focus on spy communications satellites and start production of civilian probes.
Issac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency, told Reuters on Wednesday that he hopes to harness the expertise of experts responsible for technological advances such as the Iron Dome missile interceptor to crack into the $250 billion commercial space industry.
“The idea was that we have a well-developed space infrastructure for our defense needs,” Ben-Israel explained, “and without a big financial investment, we can use it to grab a few percentage points of the commercial market as well.”
He said that he hopes the country will be able to secure a market share of at least three percent, but acknowledged that it faces still competition from global technology giants looking to expand into new markets and new industries, but he hopes to get bigger by going smaller.
As the global space race begins to follow the lead of other technological areas, such as mobile devices and computers, by making things smaller, lighter and more efficient, officials at the Israel Space Agency see a golden opportunity. After all, the country’s researchers have honed their craft by creating small spy satellites designed to monitor “unfriendly neighbors.”
One of their projects, Adelis-SAMSON, is designing three nano-satellites for the first controlled formation flight in space. The navigation system being used in the mission is now being tested in a cluster of round, plate-sized robots capable of weaving in and out of formation autonomously.
The launch of the Adelis-SAMSON satellites is currently set for next year, the news agency said, and while they are in orbit, digital receivers created by a developer of the Iron Dome system will detect distress signals on Earth, with the satellites using triangulation for enhanced accuracy.
“We call it maximizing performance per kilo,” project head Pini Gurfil told Reuters, reportedly showing off one of the shoebox-sized satellites while speaking to the media outlet. “The new propulsion system, the application for search and rescue on demand, the software and algorithms, they will be really significant for the commercial market.”
Ripe for the start-up
Since the 1980s, Israel’s space program focused on defense and surveillance out of necessity, and it is widely considered to be one of the 10 leading space-faring countries in the world. Yet its civilian program suffered until 2012, when the government approved $22.5 million in funding for the civilian space program and green-lighting projects such as Adelis-SAMSON.
“Because it has a broad spectrum of proven expertise and knowledge, Israel is ripe to have a lot of start-ups and those start-ups will have a lot of amazing technologies for export,” said Amir Blachman, managing director of the US-based Space Angels Network, an investment firm that provides capital for private space, aerospace, and aviation startups.
Last March, a team of Israeli scientists announced plans to send a dishwasher-sized probe to the Moon by the end of 2015. Those scientists were part of the SpaceIL team, which was formed to compete for the $20 million Google’s LunarX Prize, and their goal was to create a spacecraft that could land on the lunar surface, jump 500 meters and transmit video and images back to Earth.