Israel Joining Commercial Space Race

March 13, 2015

2 min read

Israel is cashing in on its military expertise to expand its role in the commercial space enterprise, Israel Hayom reported. The tiny country has set out on a five-year mission to make a name for itself in the $250-billion-a-year market.

“The idea was that we have a well-developed space infrastructure for our defense needs, and without a big financial investment, we can use it to grab a few percentage points of the commercial market as well,” said Isaac Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency.

Using its experience in military equipment, such as spy satellites and the Iron Dome anti-missile battery, Israel’s goal is to create civilian devices, some small enough to fit in your hand.

One Israeli project in the works is  Adelis-SAMSON, which is designing three miniature satellites for the first controlled formation flight in space. Set to launch next year, the satellites’ digital receivers, developed by the co-creator of the Iron Dome system, will locate and triangulate distress signals from Earth.

According to Pini Gurfil, head of the project, “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.”

Another company, SpacePharma, developed a laboratory that fits in the palm of a hand and will orbit in a nano-satellite, similar to those developed by SAMSON. This will allow scientists to conduct experiments and watch them unfold on their smartphones.

SpacePharma CEO Yossi Yamin explains that companies spend about $3 billion a year to access the microgravity of space, but only those with big enough budgets and political connections can send their research to astronauts on the International Space Station for testing.

“We’re expanding bandwidth that is very tight to allow more end users,” he said. “This is an endless market.” Rather than millions of dollars per experiment, SpacePharma will bring the costs down to a few hundred thousand, Yamin added. The first satellite is expected to launch later this year.

Israel has been on the forefront of the military space industry, and is considered one of the top ten spacefaring nations in the world. Its civilian program, however, has lagged behind.

That began to change three years ago when Israel earmarked 90 million shekels ($22.5 million) to the civilian space agency, which in turn funded programs like SAMSON.

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