OUTER SPACE -- CLEAN UP YOUR ACT
(Article by Amnon Barzilai, "Ha'aretz", July 28, 1998, p. B3)
The defense establishment is investing in space. Israel will develop,
produce and sell launchers and satellite technology for the civilian
market, and the profits will be used to promote military capabilities.
In recent months, a special team, headed by Colonel (res.) Dr. Aviam Sela,
has been analyzing the Ofek-4 launch failure in January. The team has
returned with its findings and conclusions. It is reasonable to assume
that the lessons will be implemented in advance of the launch of the next
photoreconnaissance satellite, and will influence the size of the
launcher, the weight of the satellite payload and photographic
It is not clear when the next launch will be. "Call me back in six
months," said a senior defense official when asked about it.
Meanwhile, the consolation is the unexpected longevity of Ofek-3 (Ofek-3
weighs 250 kgs.). Since it was launched in April 1995, Israel's first
photoreconnaissance satellite continues to travel in low-earth orbit
"against the laws of physics," according to one of the experts in the
field. The satellite sends excellent black-and-white photographs. But what
will happen when Ofek-3 ends its life, as can be expected to happen?
In the 1980s there was still considerable debate whether to enter the
aerospace field at all. But today, says Professor Alon Ganei, one of the
Technion's senior researchers of rocket propulsion, the process cannot be
stopped. Israel, says Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, has penetrated
space and has no intention of leaving. Defense Ministry Director-General
Ilan Biran concurs.
In effect, Israel will try to move along two routes which cannot be easily
separated; both are being managed by the same defense industries under
Biran's close supervision. One is the development of civilian
capabilities. The professional authority, the Director of Defense R&D and
Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) Major-General Dr. Yitzhak Ben-Israel,
operates alongside Biran.
In the past year, Air Force Commander Major-General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu is
the main factor in the IDF which is trying to push, raise awareness and
accelerate the entry into space. Ben Eliyahu would be happy to receive the
responsibility for operations in space. He would like to follow in the
footsteps of the United States Air Force and guarantee that he become
Israel's first "Air and Space Force" commander. Israel Aircraft Industries
(IAI), the main contractor for developing launchers and satellites, is
also interested to become the main factor determining priorities in the
field. But for now, control and supervision remains in the hands of
Director-General Biran and by the Space Directorate of MAFAT. For IAI to
influence space planning, it would have to show impressive commercial
successes. A chance for this has recently opened.
Better late than never, say the optimists in the industry on the recent
agreement reached with Biran. For the past four years, he directed a
stubborn battle over the establishment of a company that would produce
photoreconnaissance satellites for commercial purposes - - an outgrowth of
Ofek-3. The idea-man, businessman Steve Wilson, owner of West Indies Space
Ltd., offered to market high resolution photo-graphs produced by the
Israeli satellite to the wide world. The first to express opposition was
the United States. After the American opposition was dropped, it became
clear that the Defense Ministry refused to permit the use of the
technology originally developed for military purposes.
At some point, it seems that the Defense Minister dropped its opposition.
IAI signed a contract with Wilson and the American investment firm Lehman
Brothers which agreed to raise on Wall Street the $80 million needed to
build and launch the photo- reconnaissance satellite. The matter was
urgent due to the behind-the-scenes competition of Lockheed-Martin, which
also wanted to launch a photoreconnaissance satellite for commercial
Then Defense Ministry Director-General David Ivri resigned and Biran was
appointed in his stead. Biran wished to study the matter, and made a
condition: Prepare a black-list of countries to whom the commercial
satellite's photographs would not be sold. Lehman Brothers directors
explained that it would not be able to raise the money on the New York
Stock Exchange, which is open to everyone, for a company which had
prepared a blacklist of customers with whom it was forbidden to trade. But
IAI decided to accept Biran's diktat, and is now seeking a new investor.
Israel's space policy is based on the working assumption that Israel would
not receive aid for aerospace from any country, not even from its best
friend the United States. Rocket propulsion is considered strategic
information not to be traded between states. Israel's only chance was to
develop an independent capability. The limitations of Israeli satellite
launchers is not a secret. The decision to build small launchers was a
direct consequence of budgetary limits and the lack of an infrastructure.
But the general opinion in the defense establishment is that the
liabilities of the 1980s have become commercial advantages at the end of
Launch builders differentiate between three type of orbits: Low-earth up
to 400 kms; middle-orbits up to 1000 kms; and the third at 35,000 kms. The
latter is intended for communications satellites, and their launch
requires giant launchers such as the French Ariane-5, which launched
Israel's Amos communications satellite.
IAI, which manufactures the Amos, decided to build light, low-altitude
satellite launchers. Their limitation is that they can carry satellites
weighing up to only 250 kgs. In order to cover all the areas desired to be
photographed, there have to be dozens of satellites. In addition, the
orbit's proximity to the atmosphere ensures a short life-span for
satellites. This means repeated investments in building launchers and
However, the low orbit is good for photographic purposes. On 19 September
1988, the Ofek-1 experimental satellite was successfully launched. Now, 10
years later, the desire to stake a claim in space has become fashionable.
The relatively low cost of launching small satellites has created an
expanding market. Governments, international organizations and research
institutions around the world are seeking to launch satellites into space.
Today, the talk is of a "niche" for commercial photography satellites for
mapping, supplying weather information, preserving the environment and
monitoring forests against fires. In fact, two huge companies, in the
United States and Europe, are showing great interest in the small
satellites that IAI has developed.
The Civilian Track
On 27 June, an agreement was signed between IAI's Malam factory and the
Coleman Research Corporation (CRC), an American concern, for producing
small satellite launchers. According to the joint announcement, the
agreement will enable the American company to produce such a launcher for
use in the American market. The launcher will integrate the technology of
the Shavit launcher, which sent the Ofek satellites into space. According
to foreign reports, Shavit launchers are the civilian derivative of the
Jericho II ballistic missile, which is also being developed at the Malam
The agreement signed in the U.S. was achieved after a great deal of
lobbying and effort. Five years ago, President Bill Clinton acceded to the
late Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin's request, and
permitted IAI to sell light launchers in the U.S. However, the American
industries were concerned about a competitor and put a spoke in the
wheels. The two conditions that made signing the agreement possible were
the establishment of a joint company and giving 51% of the company's
shares to the Americans.
The agreement with the American concern fits in with, and complements, the
agreement that was signed several months ago between IAI and the giant
European concern Matra Marconi Space (MMS). On the basis of ideas
presented to its directors, a joint company -- Leo Link -- was established
several months ago to develop satellite launchers. The establishment of
the partnership was preceded by a survey which assessed the market's
potential in the coming years. An estimate determined, according to which
the price of one launch will run between $15-25 million.
The idea now taking shape is to build two launchers with the Europeans and
the Americans. The first, called LK- 1, will be capable of launching one
or more satellites with an overall weight of up to 400 kgs. (nearly twice
that of the Shavit), into a low Earth orbit. The second, called LK-2, is
larger. It will be based on a large, heavy commercial American engine, and
will have a lifting capacity of 1,000 kgs. The two launcher programs will
compete with rocket manufacturer Lockheed Martin for the small satellite
The attempt now being made, to get a strong foothold in space through
commercial agreements, is different from the effort that was made in the
1980s. Then, Israeli industry mobilized in order to develop a unique
military capability in the space field. Today, the trend is reversed. The
defense industries are attempting to sell the international civilian
market the know-how and experience that they have acquired in building
military technologies. With the help of profits, they will develop the
next generation of products, with the cycle hopefully repeating itself.
In recent months, a new-old player has been trying to return to the
Israeli space industry. The "father of the Arrow missile," Dov Raviv, the
man who developed the Shavit, the IAI's missile launcher, is planning a
new and ambitious project. Six years after he resigned from managing
Malam, Raviv is presenting a plan for building a huge satellite launcher.
It would be 50 meters tall and have a lifting capacity dozens of times
greater than that of the Shavit.
Raviv set up a company in the U.S., but he intends to build the satellite
launcher in Israel, together with IAI and TAAS-Israel Industries.
Defense industry managers who examined Raviv's plan were astounded by its
daring. Raviv claims that his satellite launcher is easily capable of
competing with the Ariane 5, but that it will be built at a much lower
cost. The Ariane 5's lifting capacity is about 18 tons. The launcher
planned by Raviv would also be able to lift communications satellites to
an altitude of 35,000 kms.
Opinion is divided within the defense establishment regarding Raviv's
plan. Is it a dream or an attack of megalomania? The Defense Ministry has
announced unequivocally that it will not go with Raviv's plan. IAI
president Moshe Keret stated that he would agree to join the project, but
not as an investor. Yitzhak Kaul, president of Clal, examined Raviv's
proposal, but was dissuaded by the negative response of his board of
directors. To potential investors, Raviv claimed that only several dozen
million dollars is needed for the initial development stage, and that in
the second stage he will go to the stock market. This is a minuscule sum
in comparison with the promising result. In the meantime, no investor has
Information Division, Israel Foreign Ministry - Jerusalem
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