For many decades there has been a significant debate worldwide about the need for and value of space exploration, with the costs and benefits over the long and short term assessed by policymakers and citizens alike.
In the Israel of the 1980’s, policymakers recognized and accepted that space related activities had the potential to contribute, not only to the Israeli economy and the country’s international standing, but also to the advancement of humanity in terms of research, agriculture, communications and the monitoring of environmental pollution. As a result, The Israel Space Agency was founded by government in 1983 under the auspices of the Ministry of Science and Technology, and given a mandate to initiate and coordinate all activities of a civilian space program.
Over decades that followed, Israel developed a highly successful satellite program, focused on the miniaturization of technology and the development of high resolution, remote sensing and communication capabilities, all of which have helped to put Israel at the forefront of the industry worldwide.
But Israel’s capabilities in the space domain are not limited to satellites. Since 2012, 62 R&D projects have been granted approximately NIS 160 million ($51.3 million) to “encourage the use of existing technologies for space, reduce knowledge gaps with regards to what is happening in the global space markets, improve Israeli industry’s competitiveness and increase the Israeli industry’s use of scientific knowledge accrued from space technologies.” In January this year alone, The Israel Space Agency, the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology, and the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) approved a new grant of NIS 18.5 million ($5.94 million) to 11 private companies developing innovative space technologies.
While the grant may be a relatively small amount in comparison to other industries and countries, the potential impact from the technologies promises to be very significant. In addition, the companies are obligated to reimburse the government for the funding through royalty payments they may ultimately receive from sales of commercial products.
Some of the companies, described below, that received grants are notable for their innovative, multi-application or problem solving approaches;
Helios – is developing technologies to extract and utilise metals and oxygen from Martian and lunar soil, to provide fuel and construction materials for future space missions. As a by-product, Helios discovered and then developed a novel method to produce iron from iron ore, requiring only thermal energy, and emitting only oxygen. This technology can allow steel producers on Earth to significantly reduce their carbon footprint and production costs.
Paxis is developing advanced ceramic materials for the production of complicated 3D structures from silicon carbide making products suitable for use in extreme environmental conditions in space or on earth.
Terra Space Labs is developing an infrared Earth observation system which, by using tiny satellites that are both cheaper and simpler to produce, can assist with issues like forest fire detection and monitoring, the detection of greenhouse gasses, oil spills, as well as the measurement of forest biomass and the diagnostics of ice within clouds, thus contributing to global environmental monitoring efforts.
N.S.L. Communications, produces pop-up satellite dishes and antennas to help supply broadband and other communications services for the IOT and agricultural Sectors, at a fraction of the traditional cost of satellite communications, and without the need to establish expensive cellular infrastructure on the ground.
Many of the space technologies in use and in development today are unseen by most of the global population, but they help to facilitate our everyday needs through various industries and platforms. Take for example the benefits offered by two other Israeli firms.
Gorila Link –offers a plug and play “Platform as a service” (PaaS) solution that seamlessly enables the connectivity of smart devices across multiple satellite networks providing 100% global coverage. The benefits of such communications coverage for earth-based industries are numerous, particularly in the Oil and Gas and Forestry and Transportation sectors, as well as smart city and IOT intensive sectors.
In the area of future food sustainability, GreenOnyx, is an Israeli agriculture engineering startup that develops fresh greens filled with nutrients and dietary supplements. It is experimenting with growing a water-based lentil plant under microgravity conditions in an autonomous growing facility. The leaves will be tested as food in space, and be produced in a controlled group where their growth rates will be analysed.
In addition to these recent grant recipients, there are numerous other Israeli companies contributing to human progress in important sectors.
One such company is Space Pharma which has developed miniaturized microgravity laboratory technology, enabling the unprecedented possibility to develop new drugs in Space. By conducting experiments in microgravity, where biological and chemical systems have accelerated processes, scientists can observe three-dimensional growth of cell cultures and molecule structures of proteins and crystals at a lower cost and with higher success rates than experiments using traditional research methods. According to SpacePharma’s CEO, Yossi Yamin, “We study everything from colloids, enzymatic reactions, liver cells, fluid physics, stem cells, cancer biopsies, whose molecules retain their three-dimensional shape.” This research can ultimately help to pave the way to new breakthroughs in fields such as life science, foodtech, chemicals, materials, and more.
It was Spacepharma’s technology that facilitated some of the experiments conducted by Philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe while he was aboard the International Space Station in April 2022.
Given these examples, it’s clear to see that – in some ways – science fact is now surpassing science fiction, and Israel is helping to lead the way.