Israel Sets its Sights on the Final Frontier
More corporate funding required to get Israel’s space program off the ground.
Israel's space program isn't a reality just yet, but it is in the cards, according to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Treasury officials are currently studying the financial targets necessary for a space program, as well as suggestions for achieving them.
The treasury is considering a proposal to invest NIS 300 million a year in the Israeli aerospace industry. The National Economic Council, however, seems to think this sum is insufficient.
The program, initially catalyzed by President Shimon Peres, has also intrigued Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and both men would like to see some progress toward outer space in 2011.
But Israelis involved in space warn that the program could fail without the involvement of the corporate sector, as financial support from Israel’s defense division will not be sufficient.
According to Haaretz, the potential space program can be expected to cost Israeli 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 aerospace industry that show potential are properly developed, Haaretz reported, the economic output could be quite substantial, and Israeli education, technology and society in general could benefit hugely.
But Israel should expect some competition. It is expected that in the next decade, thousands of companies around the globe will be contending for a piece of the growing outer-space economic market. Satellites, for example, are already being used to provide early warning of natural disasters, and being employed for communications, defense and various other purposes.
Israelis, though, are already considered experts on satellite technology, products for satellites, and ground stations, areas that are expected to remain trendy and in demand in the years to come.
U.S. President Barack Obama has also demonstrated his commitment to the American space program by assigning $6 billion more for NASA over the next five years. The money is supposed to be used, in part, to outsource to the private sector in order to free the agency's resources for further scientific research and experimentation.
Interestingly, Israel is considered the eighth biggest source of space-related sales, according to research company Futron, who conducted a survey on how competitive space companies are around the world.
For now, Israel’s goal is to propel itself into a humble fifth place by gaining a more competitive edge, this being the vision of Israel Space Agency (ISA) Chairman Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel and Science and Technology Ministry Director General Menachem Greenblum.
The ISA has been around for decades, and is located at Tel Aviv University. It is not heavily staffed, though, as its main job is to advise the government on space-related issues.
It is, however, an office of experts, and, according to Haaretz, it recently issued a report concluding that Israel may be gradually losing its competitive edge because of insufficient investment.
Currently, Israel’s space program is fed by the defense budget. But this alone can't support an advancing space program staffed by skilled, creative people.
It seems, then, that until the corporate sector gets more involved in funding, Israel’s space program may, at least for now, remain in NASA’s shadow.