Saturday, November 14, 2009

India: A beacon of hope to Israeli Space Ambitions

Since the launch of TecSAR in early 2008, the cooperation between India and Israel in the field of space technology has been growing at an exponential rate. The recently launched RISAT-2 and the TAUVEX, which is a payload on the GSAT-4, are just glimpses of things to come.

Israel is preparing it's newest spy satellite, the Ofeq-8 for launch. The satellite is in it's final stages of fabrication and is supposed to be launched by the mid-2010 on Israel's indigenous launcher Shavit. It will house a high-resolution panchromatic payload, built by Elbit Systems Elop, similar to Israel's operational in-orbit Ofeq-5 and Ofeq-7 satellites, launched, respectively, in 2002 and 2007.

Well, Ofeq-8 is where the Israeli space calender ends. There is no funding for the next-generation Ofeq-9, pending a cost-sharing and technical agreement with a prospective partner country. There is a furious debate within the country over the direction in which their space program is heading. The leaders of the Israeli space industry blamed funding, technical and political uncertainties for obscuring a clear picture of Israel’s military space plans.

At present, besides Ofeq-8, Israel has confirmed that it would jointly build a second Synthetic Aperature Radar (SAR) satellite with India, dubbed the TecSAR-2. It is lated for a late-2011 launch date. Beyond these two projects, government and industry sources say, not even the Israeli MoD knows at this point how many satellites it can expect to deploy, what specific capabilities they will possess, and which launchers will be used to insert them into orbit.

Israel's annual space budget of around 100 million USD is facing funding shortfalls due to the Global Economic Downturn and has forced the Israeli MoD to seek foreign investment to make for the budget shortfalls. As a result, Israel has been forced to seek foreign partners or it's next generation Ofeq-9 project also known as OPSAT-3000. Many industry sources claim that the partner would an Asian country, most probably India but the deal is yet to finalized. The next-generation satellite will feature an advanced panchromatic camera and possibly a multi-spectral imaging payload.

India is at the top of the Israeli preference list due close ties the two nations have recently been enjoying. In addition, launch costs for Indian launch vehicles are lower that other countries thereby reducing the project costs which is to be shared between the two countries. As an example, Israel and Italy had previously inked a deal to jointly build 2 communication satellites for which Israel was to contribute 160 million Euros. But, Israel is having difficulty finding the required funding for the project. An Indo-Israeli project could cost half as much.

Although there is very large potential for the Israeli space industry it will be difficult for such a small country to finance very large projects. Indo-Israeli cooperation in this field would be a great advantage to both the nations. Israel has a great legacy in this field for over 25 years and would surely like to continue with a fast emerging space power like India.

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