Israel eyes next-gen satellite launch to scrutinize universe under new light
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Israel eyes next-gen satellite launch to scrutinize universe under new light

Micro-satellite weighing 160 kilos has projected 2023 launch; it will operate in ultraviolet light to answer ‘some of the big questions in astrophysics’

The Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Space Agency will work together to create a new "micro-satellite," the ULTRASAT, projected to launch in 2023 (Weizmann Institute of Science)
The Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Space Agency will work together to create a new "micro-satellite," the ULTRASAT, projected to launch in 2023 (Weizmann Institute of Science)

The Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Space Agency will work together to create a new “micro-satellite” projected to launch in 2023 that will study cosmic explosions and black holes, observing a wide part of the sky and operating in ultraviolet light, where processes are normally invisible.

The satellite, known as ULTRASAT and weighing just 160 kilograms (353 pounds), will carry a telescope “designed to observe the Universe as it has not been seen it before,” the institute said in a statement.

Its tasks will include looking at the formation process of dense neutron stars that merge and emit gravitational waves, how supermassive black holes rule their neighborhoods, how stars explode, where the heavy elements in the universe come from, and the properties of stars that could have habitable planets. All of these processes happen in visible light and in ultraviolet light, and also sometimes emit ultraviolet light. The idea is to see processes that have not been discerned to date.

“This unique configuration will help us answer some of the big questions in astrophysics,” said Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Eli Waxman, who is behind the ULTRASAT project.

At about the weight of a small upright piano, the new type of scientific satellite, which looks like a large bread box and has a large field of view, will be built in Israel over the next four years, together with the Science Ministry.

Work is underway to “secure the budget for the entire project,” which is expected to cost some $70 million over four years, including planning, construction and launch, the statement said.

Start on the project is scheduled for September. The DESY Research Center, part of the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest scientific organization, has pledged its support and cooperation for the initiative, the statement said.

“Negotiations are also under way with other major space agencies to get ULTRASAT off the ground,” the statement added.

The ULTRASAT spacecraft will be constructed in Israel, “putting Israel — and Israeli scientists and engineers — at the forefront of a global movement to explore the Universe with small, affordable satellites,” said ISA’s director Avi Blasberger in the statement.

Israel is among the most powerful countries in the world in space research, and is part of the elite group of countries that have launched satellites into space, alongside giants like the US, Russia, the European Union, China, India and Japan.

Unlike the US, Russia and Europe, which undertake large and expensive human missions, Israel focuses on the area of innovative space technologies, launching some of the world’s lightest satellites through the development of lightweight technologies.

The Beresheet spacecraft crashed in April during its attempt to land on into the moon’s surface, dashing hopes of having it become the first privately funded craft to achieve the feat. Earlier this month, the Amos-17 satellite successfully launched into space.

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