Israel must ‘finally set national space policy’

The Israeli government must finally lay out a clearly defined national space policy, based on the understanding that dependence on foreign infrastructure for Internet, television and phone communications represents a significant vulnerability, a senior space expert told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Speaking in the aftermath of the destruction of the Amos- 6 communications satellite, which was lost when SpaceX’s Falcon-9 launch rocket exploded on the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday, Tal Inbar, head of the Research Center at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya, said it is time to create a civil space policy.

“I expect the Israeli government – the prime minister – to decide that, for the first time, we will have a policy,” he said.

The government could decide to end Israeli manufacturing of satellites, and purchase abroad, or to begin placing orders with Israeli manufacturers to keep the civilian space program alive.

The Science, Technology and Space Ministry held an emergency meeting on Sunday with the heads of the space industries in Israel to work at preserving their “huge technological advantages.”

“The Israeli space industry is outstanding, and it will remain outstanding,” said Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis. “We will make sure to strengthen it and preserve its status and abilities.”

Senior industry officials said they invest huge amounts of money in infrastructure, manpower and innovative technologies, but a long-term policy and state assistance are needed because there is much competition abroad.

At the end of the meeting, it was decided that the ministry will prepare a long-term national space policy. A committee headed by ministry director-general Peretz Vazan, Israel Space Agency chairman Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael and agency director Avi Blassberger will present its recommendations within 10 weeks.

Amos-6 was the last communications satellite order given to Israel Aerospace Industries, with no known subsequent order, putting further Israeli communications satellite know-how and manufacturing in doubt.

“My personal stance is that this is an important field, and not only due to the secret communications aspect,” Inbar said. “If all television channels are broadcast to us from European satellites, and tomorrow, a BDS boycott goes into effect, the Europeans could throw us off their satellite. We’d get compensation, but be left without access. The same is true for international calls and the Internet. We can’t solely depend on optical sea cables. We need an alternative infrastructure,” he added.

The blast that destroyed Amos-6 could end up being a boost for Israeli manufacturing, since the Ramat Ganbased Spacecom Ltd., which owned the satellite, could order a replacement satellite from Israel Aerospace Industries. But that outcome is far from being assured, Inbar warned.

IAI’s delivery time would probably be longer than larger, foreign satellite producers that make 10 satellites a year, he said. Inbar cited media interviews given by Spacecom’s CEO David Pollak in recent days to list four possibilities: either Spacecom buys a satellite that is already in space and moves it into the orbit that Amos-6 was supposed to take; it buys a satellite that will soon be launched; or it could carry out a rapid order with a foreign maker. “The fourth possibility is that they order a replacement satellite from Israel,” Inbar said. “It was pretty clear from Pollak’s comments that time, rather than money, was the key aspect, as Spacecom will get every last dollar back [lost in the blast].”

A tailor-designed new satellite, which would have Amos- 6’s unique features, would be the most suitable, though not the fastest, solution, Inbar said.

IAI will pay Spacecom some $173 million and bear additional associated costs, the defense corporation said on Sunday. IAI holds an insurance policy that covers all satellite risks incurred at the launch site and after launch. IAI believes that it will be eligible to receive full insurance compensation.

During a briefing with journalists, IAI CEO Joseph Weiss stated that “satellite communications is a basic and strategic Israeli capability,” adding that the state must formulate a multi-year plan to manage investment in this field.

“The traumatic and sorrowful loss of Amos-6 must set off red lights among decision makers. The State of Israel’s external link is dependent on an infrastructure of undersea cables and communications and satellites. There is no advanced state that does not have its own communications satellites, and the reason Israel has them is because in the early 1990s, IAI invested $200m. of its money in developing the infrastructure.”

Weiss warned that without state intervention, the company will not be able to subsidize further development and production.

IAI has begun contacts with Spacecom about the possibility of constructing Amos-7, but the talks “have not yet reached the order stage.”

Weiss said that “even after this difficult event, I believe that Spacecom will leave its center of gravity in Israel.”

IAI could build the next satellite within two year or less, he said. $40m.-$50m. of government funds are needed annually to assist technological development for the next satellite, he added.

The Amos-6 satellite, built by Israel Aerospace Industries and owned by Spacecom, was to head into space for a 16-year mission that was meant to serve Facebook, bring Internet connectivity to Africa, and television service to providers in Europe and the Middle East.

It was originally scheduled for launch in July, but this was delayed to September 3.

Currently, Israel has three working civilian satellites and eight military satellites in orbit around the Earth. All contact with the Amos-5 satellite was lost last year.

Author: Judy Siegel


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