World beats path to Israel’s door for better space tech
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World beats path to Israel’s door for better space tech

Satellites, communications, and more — Israeli technology for extra-terrestrial exploration is a hit at international event

(L to R) Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the Israel Space Agency; Minister of Science Yaakov Peri; NASA Chairman Charles F. Bolden (Photo credit: Ben Kattan)
(L to R) Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the Israel Space Agency; Minister of Science Yaakov Peri; NASA Chairman Charles F. Bolden (Photo credit: Ben Kattan)

Israel hasn’t sent astronauts to the moon, at least not yet, but its know-how in space technology starred at a major professional show in Canada this week. Over 200 leaders in the “space business” gathered on Wednesday at the Israel exhibition at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto. The event brings together experts from industry, government and academia to discuss the latest trends in the satellite industry, exploration technology, communications, and other space-related matters.

Those are all areas Israel excels in — and the presence of top officials from NASA, the European Space Agency, and corporations involved in space-related technology at the event is a testimony to the prowess of Israel’s capabilities in this area, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri said.

Sponsored by the International Astronautical Federation, the world’s largest space-related lobbying group, the IAC, now in its 65th year, features presentations on all things space — exploration, life sciences, space debris, communication and navigation, propulsion, policy, regulations and economics, and even space law, to name just a few. Over 3,000 people attended the event, which featured exhibitions by space agencies and corporations from around the world, including local space-tech firms Rafael and Israel Aircraft Industries.

Although Israel has yet to reach the moon (although the SpaceIL project, sponsored by a private group that hopes to win $20 million Google is giving away, aims to do just that), Israel is a veteran of the space business. Israel is one of only seven countries in the world to launch and maintain its own satellites, and it has developed and improved dozens of innovations — such as an improved synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), a radar-based system that can used anytime, day or night, and under all weather conditions, as well as spy satellites capable of seeing even the smallest of objects from space. Israel developed them for agricultural and environmental purposes, the Israel Space Agency said.

Israel works closely with both NASA and the European Space Agency, and Israeli technology has played an important part in American and European space missions. Israel’s cooperation with NASA goes back to at least 1985, Israel Space Agency officials said, and NASA has signed several cooperation agreements with Israel, the first in 1996. That agreement paved the way for the training of the first Israeli astronaut — Ilan Ramon, who trained at the Johnson Space Center for five years, starting in 1998. Ramon was preparing for his mission on the Space Shuttle Columbia — which tragically exploded upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, killing Ramon and everyone else aboard. In 2004, NASA established a memorial for Ramon at Thomas Lee Inlet, on the north shore of Devon Island, off Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Ramon’s tragic flight was Israel’s most famous foray into outer space, but among professionals, the country is perhaps better known for its technology and equipment. Among the Israeli inventions used to keep astronauts healthy, for example, is the Vivid-q Cardiovascular Ultrasound system, developed by GE Healthcare’s R&D lab in Israel. The system monitors astronauts on the International Space Station to determine the long-term impact of “captivity” in space on the human body. NASA is using the system in several studies, including one called the Integrated Cardiovascular study, which is exploring the effect of space travel on the heart. One of the consequences of long-term residence in space, scientists say, is a condition called cardiac atrophy, in which the heart gets weaker, and can even get smaller. The study, which has been ongoing for several years, is trying to determine just how badly long-duration space flight impacts the heart.

Israeli tech has even made it to Mars. The software used to control the Curiosity rover that is exploring the possibility of life on the Red Planet was developed at the Israeli branch of Siemens PLM. In fact, Siemens does nearly all its PLM (product lifecycle management) work in Israel, ensuring that devices like the Curiosity last as long as possible, and avoid problems and pitfalls that could disable them before their mission is up.

Among the guests at the Israel exhibition in Toronto Wednesday were NASA head Charles F. Bolden, Jr, ESA director Jean-Jacques Dordain, IAF Executive Director Christian Feichtinger, the heads of the German, French, and Italian space agencies, and many more.

“The confidence that the heads of these agencies and corporations have in Israeli technology is evidenced by the large turnout at this event,” said Peri. “It shows Israel’s special standing in the world of space exploration and technology. The thousands of people who visited our exhibition will, I believe, become strong advocates for Israeli tech in their home countries.”

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