Israeli Space Industry
With over a dozen satellites from Israel launched into space, the country is one of only ten nations in the world with an independent space-launch capability. The country’s national aeronautical corporation – Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), which has led the country’s space program, has also developed the Arrow, the world’s first-ever Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile system. The country’s aerospace capabilities also include the know-how to upgrade a broad range of aircraft and helicopters and Israeli firms are world leaders in unmanned aircraft – UAVs.
The country’s aerospace industry has been able to benefit from a close relationship with the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Historically it has been the success of the IAF and its superiority in the air, which has led the Israel Defense Forces to victory. New aerospace systems and sub-systems developed in Israel have the advantage of being immediately tested by the IAF, sometimes in real-time mission and operational conditions, providing a stream of feedback to local developers and manufacturers.
IAI’s space and missile achievements include the Shavit launcher, the Ofeq Imaging Satellite and Amos Communication Satellite and, in cooperation with the U.S., the Arrow missile. An agreement has been signed between IAI and Boeing for establishing a production infrastructure for manufacturing Arrow missile components.
Other Israeli firms like Elbit Systems also specialize in aerospace systems. These systems include space and airborne reconnaisance systems, UAVs, space cameras and thermal imaging systems, and the production of structural components and parts for the world’s leading aerospace companies. This includes, through its subsidiary Cyclone Aviation Products, upgrading a wide range of fixed wing and rotor aircraft and helicopters including the F-4, F-5, F-15, F-16 and MiG-21 fighter aircraft, the CH-53, Super Cobra, Super Puma and V-22 helicopters and L-39 and ALX trainers.
Israel Military Industries (IMI) specializes in rocket systems and through its subsidiary Ashot Ashkelon Industries produces long and short shafts for jet engines, products for aircraft high-lift systems, and switchboxes for the aerospace industry.
Capitalizing on its defense, communications and IT industry, Israel plans on kick starting business the global civilian space industry. The country already boasts a $5 billion defense industry. The 25 Israeli firms in the defense business, which include industry leaders such as Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Elbit and Rafael, are very interested in the country’s new national space program, supported by the Netanyahu government and President Shimon Peres. Israel is one of the world’s few countries to build and launch satellites. In 1988, it became the seventh nation to launch an indigenous satellite into space and Israelis are experts in satellite technology, products for satellites and ground stations.
Not only do its satellites weigh much less than conventional satellites, but Israel has developed expertise in the optical and radar photography of the Earth that the satellites supply. And this expertise has encouraged joint research and development with the US and other countries in the fields of solar and planetary research, black holes, and the universe. Over the years, Israel has signed cooperation agreements with its allies’ space programs including NASA in the US – most recently in August this year, the CSA in Canada, France’s CNES, and Russia’s RKA.
For Israel, the development of space technologies – the country currently exports a mere $800 million in sales each year – is intertwined with its well-developed defense, communications and IT industries, and may be the only channel for its long-term financial sustainability, say some of its proponents. Also, ‘space’ isn’t just about spy satellites and astronauts. "An Israeli defense satellite can be sent over Iran in a reconnaissance mission, but you can take the same satellite and use it over your own territory to detect pollution, and what’s happening in the sea, or to study global warming," says retired Maj. Gen. Itzhik Ben-Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Industry (ISA), previously the head of R&D at Israel’s Ministry of Defense.
Israel’s established defense companies can produce satellites for military and defense uses, but also for civilian and scientific purposes, he says. Satellites are already being used to provide early warning of natural disasters from storms to locust swarms, as well as being employed for communications, defense and a host of other purposes.
The Futron research company reports that Israel ranked the eighth biggest source of space-related sales, in a survey of the competitiveness of space companies around the world. Referring to the new space program, she notes that however it’s achieved "it will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of shekels a year, but the Finance Ministry expects to gain more than just national pride from the investment. If the areas of the local aerospace industry that show potential are developed, the economic rewards could be huge, and along the way Israeli education, technology and society in general could receive a tremendous boost."
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