Tiny satellites play a big role in Israel's space ambitions

Three nanosatellites due to be launched in next 18 months will break new ground
01 Jun 2015

Ora Coren In 18 months' time, new frontier in space is due to be explored,with the joint launch from the Kourou Islands in French Guiana of three nanosatellites. The nanosatellites are the flagshiprojectof the Israel Space Agency,developedby research at the Technion -Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, in cooperationwith the defense-systemsmaker Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries. Details of the project known as Samson, for Space Autonomous Mission for Swarming and Geolocation with Nanosatellites were released ahead of next week's Israel SpaceWeek. Developedby 40-person team headed by Prof. Pini Gurfil, the satelliteseach weigh mere eightkilograms, requiringthe expertise in miniaturization that Rafael has. Each satelliteis built out of six cubes, each 10 cubic centimeters. They will be thrust into space together with the Israeli-French Venus microsatellite, another innovative project whose goalis to provideprecision agriculturalimagingand environmental monitoring. "The breakthrough was the decision to go ahead with such grandioseprojectin world terms, and one of the most complexin the academic world," said Gurfil on the nanosatellites. "Alongthe way, we made lot of progress in improving the algorithmsfor coordinated flightand assemblingthe satellite themselves. From technologicalviewpoint, compressing all that information into space the size of shoebox itselfis breakthrough,"he added. The three satelliteswill work as team, with "lead er" and two "followers," orbitingin fixed formation no more than 250 kilometers apart from each other kind of coordination never achieved before by satellitesin orbit 600 kilometers above Earth's surface. The programs and algorithms that manage the fightwere developedby Technion Space Research. Apartfrom provingthat it ispossibleto hold satellitesin formation for year or more, their purpose is to find signals of peopleon Earth who are missingor in distress. But the team has other ideas for their satellitetechnology, among them as platformfor speedier communications and very-high-resolution photography. "We know there are planets similar to Earth beyond our solar system. We don't know if they have life on them, because we can't pho tographthem," said Gurfil. "If we had network of satelliteswith better photographiccapabilities, we would take pictureof planetlike this. That's the HolyGrail." The nanosatellites are part of an ambitious goalof the Israel Space Agency for the country to capture %5 share of the 051$ billionglobal civilianspace industry.To achieve that, Israel's public and privatesectors need to invest 300 million shekels 77$( million)annuallyover the next five years. Of that,90 million shekels was budgetedto the agency itselffor ,4102-3102 said IsraelSpaceAgency director Me nachem Kidron, who said the Finance Ministryhad promised him similar amount for 61-5102 when the news government introduces budget after March's election.About %54of that will be spent on international projects,like Venus, and another %53-03 on local industry mainly startupcompanies. major international projectin which the ISA is part is the EU's JUpiterICy moons Explorer(JUICE) initiative to launch probe to exploreJupiterin .2202 Scientists from the Weizmann Institute are playing leading role in the scientific aspects of the project,and the Israeli company Accubeat is providinghighlyaccurate time- and frequency-control products. Meanwhile, the Venus satelliteis beingconstructed at Israel Aerospace Industries and the ISA is part of the EU's MEPS projectfor microsatellites,in which Rafael isplaying majorrole. One of the startupsISA is supportingis Ramon Chips, named after Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 U.S. Columbia space shuttle disaster. fablesssemiconductor company, Ramon is developingunique chipsdesignedto resist radiation in space.