If everything goes according to plan, Israel will have a new space-borne computer in a few years' time. The new computer is not expected to boast amazing performance the likes of which cannot be found on earth, but it would provide processing capabilities that are very hard to achieve in space at present, as spaceborne computers must withstand extreme environmental conditions (extreme cold and heat as well as powerful radiation).
The development of the space-borne computer is one of the projects the Israeli Space Agency decided to promote. In addition to the principle decision to support the project, funds for participation in the development costs were allocated as part of a total budget of 180 million NIS (about $45 million) allocated by the Israeli Ministry of Finance for the promotion of the Israeli Space Agency. Heading this comprehensive effort is Menachem Kidron, director general of the Israeli Space Agency, who told IsraelDefense about Israel's future space projects in a special interview. Some of the details are revealed here for the first time.
"Maintain the Relative Advantages"
The national space program was launched in February 2012, but had been conceived as far back as the end of the previous decade. "As of late 2009, we came to the understanding that Israel was losing its relative advantages in the space field, and that our capabilities were beginning to degenerate owing to the absence of resources," says Kidron.
"The insight we gained was that relying on space projects developed originally for defense purposes was no longer sufficient in order to maintain Israel's relative advantages in the field. In view of this insight, an important discussion was conducted by a think-tank assembled under the auspices of President Shimon Peres, with representatives from academia, the defense establishment and the industries. I attended that discussion as the representative of Rafael. The resolution was to consolidate a program for promoting the space industry and space exploration in Israel, and it is my privilege to implement that resolution as director general of the Israeli Space Agency."
The national space program was consolidated by a team of 12 specialists, led by the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology. According to the original intention, the program should have been implemented over the course of five budget years, but eventually it was finalized with the Ministry of Finance that 180 million NIS will be used to promote the Israeli space industry in the years 2012-2013. Additional promotional budgets would be decided upon later on. Menachem Kidron says that historically, Israel's relative advantages in the space field were achieved owing to defense and economic constraints, among other things.
The defense establishment aspired for complete coverage of the region by surveillance satellites, radar-carrying satellites and communication satellites. However, the fact that Israel cannot launch in the direction of the earth's rotation (as Arab countries are located to the east of Israel) but only towards the sea to the west, along with the budgetary restrictions, led to the development of relatively small satellites. These satellites carry payloads which provide capabilities normally provided by much larger satellites in other countries. Reducing the dimensions of the satellites and payloads saved millions of US dollars in launching costs. Over the years, the primary relative advantage of Israel – the ability to develop and launch relatively small satellites with advanced performance characteristics – was gradually eroded.
"Even today, there are only about ten countries in the world capable of developing satellites, launchers, interpreting systems and ground control stations – like us," says Kidron. "However, the intention is to push forward, to encourage the industries to develop components possessing other notable relative advantages, thereby improving our ability to compete, first and foremost, in the civilian market. The promotional budgets are intended to promote Israel's competitiveness in the civilian space application market, estimated at $250 billion a year."
The full interview with Menachem Kidron was published in the 12th issue of IsraelDefense Magazine