From the moon to cutting edge intelligence – IAI leads unique space development
Beresheet spaceship, co-developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and SpaceIL has recently attracted world-wide attention after flying towards the moon in ever-growing elliptical orbits and successfully achieving the lunar orbit.
Unfortunately, the historic lunar lander, which orbited the moon in April while transmitting high quality images of the moon’s surface did not make a successful soft landing as planned.
Despite this setback, the achievements demonstrated in this mission represent considerable technological and engineering knowledge in building space vehicles. A follow-on mission to reattempt the moon landing has already been announced and IAI is continuing to advance its growing family of space assets.
It is the first spacecraft to orbit the moon and attempt a landing as a purely private initiative, rather than a government programme. Beresheet was developed and constructed at a cost of just US $100 million, significantly cheaper than similar projects that have cost billions.
Weighing just 600 kilograms, it was the smallest spaceship to attempt the moon landing and it represents IAI’s determination, achievements and experience in building small and light weighted space vehicles. One of the aims of the Beresheet mission was to promote scientific, technical and engineering education for the next generation of Israeli schoolchildren, as well as research and development.
The knowledge that went into Beresheet will prove critical in future cooperation between IAI and Germany’s OHB Systems AG, a leading satellite manufacturer, which signed a teaming agreement with IAI last January.
Under the terms of the agreement, the two companies will jointly offer the European Space Agency a commercial access service for lunar landers to conduct exploration missions.
High-resolution intelligence – The Optsat 3000 – In addition to IAI’s growing civilian space activities, the company’s line of OptSat 3000 satellites continue to be a world leader in high resolution visual for the intelligence services.
In the 21st century combat arena, the ability to quickly receive and utilize intelligence data from space is becoming increasingly central to the success of combat operations around the world. Imagery consumers have come to realise that satellite imagery at resolutions more than 0.5m simply do not allow clear, accurate, well defined information to be extracted from those pictures.
This is particularly true for tactical combat operations, in which rapid, precise visual intelligence on enemy targets holds the key to mission success.
The latest versions of optical satellites rolling off IAI production lines are designed with this goal in mind and are developed to be agile, deliver many targets, in high resolution, fantastic image quality, and to do this quickly, so that this intelligence can be used for tactical combat. IAI is Israel’s space development center, with over three decades of technological experience behind it, enabling Israel to be one of the few countries in the world with such domestic space capabilities.
With an image resolution of approximately 40 centimetres, and a weight of between 300 to 400 kilograms, OptSat 3000 is significantly lighter than other optical satellites with the same resolution levels, and can therefore acquire images of many more targets.Its light weight enables advanced maneuvering abilities, meaning that it can deliver many targets in high resolution.
OptSat has an active production line, with IAI manufacturing a number of existing orders for clients. The satellites coming off the OptSat production line today are upgraded variants of the first OptSat 3000 types that were produced. OptSat 3000 is also well designed to perform classic long-term intelligence-gathering. An advanced command and control system enables rapid programming of the satellites.
IAI’s SAR satellites are at the cutting edge of space-based intelligence gathering. The world of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites is at the cutting edge of space-based intelligence capabilities. These satellites provide resolutions and detection capabilities that significantly boost a military’s ability to conduct tactical military operations, while also conducting enhanced long-term intelligence monitoring.
The advantages of SAR satellites are well established. Thanks to their radar beams, these observation platforms can ‘see’ at nights, gaze through cloud cover, and excel at identifying changes and mapping out areas. IAI TecSar satellites are uniquely designed to provide this type of high-resolution intelligence, but in quantities that appear to be unmatched. In addition to the technological capabilities that come with space-based radar intelligence-gathering, the TecSar platforms are significantly smaller, lighter, and faster maneuverability than other satellites in their category.
Additionally, the highly precise nature of the radar means that operators can run automatic algorithms on SAR satellites, enabling autonomous detection programmes. The TecSar satellites combine these solutions with outstanding maneuverability, resolution and image quality, TecSar can also cover wide areas if ordered to do so. While SAR images do not appear very natural to the human eye, their detection ability means end users can locate changes on the ground that optical satellites cannot.
They pick up changes, as well as classic man-made targets like launchers, vehicles, and ships. Micro and nano satellites – Designed for variety of constellations and dual use missionsIAI has also delved into the development of nano and micro satellites, which deliver imagery with resolutions of around one metre as well as variety of research and science sensors.
These smaller, lighter satellites, the Optsat-180 and the Optsat-500 series, weigh between 20 and 100 kilograms, still deliver high performance.IAI launched a nano-satellite into space, together with Ben Gurion University of the Negev in a scientific mission, to explore various climatic phenomena. Since its launch (2016), the satellite has provided measurements beyond the original mission expectations.Another scientific mission, to be conducted with the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, is being planned.
IAI and Australia – Following IAI’s participation in the Australian Space Industry Conference recently conducted within the framework of the Avalon Airshow, IAI is currently engaging with the Australian Space Agency and various industrial entities with the aim of identifying and developing areas for cooperation and integrating Australian suppliers into the IAI space supply chain.