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Space Turbulence

Viewpoints, October 2016
Aby Har Even

aby-har-even

Interview

IPDF: How much of a setback to Israel’s space programs are the recent failure of the launch of the Amos-6 civilian communications satellite and the problems with the Ofek-11 military satellite?

Aby Har Even: The loss of Amos-6 as a result of the explosion of the launcher, is of course a temporary setback for Israel’s communication satellites programs. Israel still has three operational Amos satellites (Amos-2, 3 and 4 – with a life expectancy of one, 11 and 15 years respectively). At the moment we are trying to find the funds required to replace Amos-6. I am confident that the relevant Israeli institutions (governmental and private) will help to find the funds needed to overcome the crisis.

IPDF: Does Israel face a significant shortage in communications satellites?

A H B: Every newly launched communication satellite becomes part of a communication constellation and serves to enlarge and add new capabilities. At the moment it is too early to quantify the damage caused by the explosion. I am sure that the temporary shortage in communications that may exist will be solved by the relevant institutions in Israel.

IPDF: Can the problems with Ofek-11 be rectified?

A H B: The builder of the satellite, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has already solved most of the problems that were reported after the launch on the locally built Shavit-2 rocket. The quality of the pictures received from Ofek-11 and published by IAI is evidence of this.

The Ofek-11 satellite is launched on a Shavit-2 rocket at the Palmachim Air Force base, September 16; Credit: Defense Ministry

The Ofek-11 satellite is launched on a Shavit-2 rocket at the Palmachim Air Force base, September 16; Credit: Defense Ministry

IPDF: Does the government invest sufficiently in the space/satellite program?

A H B: The scientific, technological and industrial achievements in space by our research institutes and industry could have been more advanced and more fruitful if the governmental budgets dedicated to space had been larger. However, in recent years, they have already been increased.

IPDF: How do you see Israel’s space program developing in the coming years?

A H B: The space programs are initiated by the Israel Space Agency, by industry and by research institutes. Due to the larger budgets allocated recently by the Ministry of Science and Technology, I hope Israel will be able to enter new areas in space such as nano satellites and would increase its involvement in utilization and development of space technologies. 

It is important to mention that the involvement of young students – for example those who designed and built the experimental nano satellite Duhifat launched in June 2014. Duhifat is still operational and it encouraged other schools to “enter” the space domain, which of course will help in improving the scientific and technological level of the young generation.

It is also important to mention international cooperation in space like the development of Venus, an Israel-French sophisticated remote sensing satellite and cooperation with other countries such as Italy (the Shalom Mission is a joint initiative of the Israel Space Agency and ASI – the Italian Space Agency), India, the US and others.

Aby Har Even is a Senior Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, former head of the Israel Space Agency and head of the Shavit satellite launcher program at Israel Aerospace Industries.