With the recent launch of the Beresheet spacecraft, Israel became only the fourth country to set out on a lunar landing endeavor, joining the United States, Russia, and China.
While Israel is much smaller than its lunar predecessors in terms of both physical size and population, its status as a technological supernova has propelled the Startup Nation to global leadership in aerospace technology, with Beresheet’s launch the latest evidence of Israel’s prowess in this field.
Israeli technology infuses virtually every stage of the global aerospace journey. From leading the next generation of aircraft development to the Rafael-developed propulsion system for the ExoMars mission to Mars, Israel’s aerospace innovation knows no planetary bounds.
Israel Aerospace Industries, established in 1953, has been at the forefront of many of the country’s advances in the sector. As Israel’s chief manufacturer of aviation and aerial systems, IAI has developed state-of-the-art satellites and satellite equipment, ground control stations, mission centers, and launchers. And while the company may have been launched only five years after Israeli statehood, IAI remains focused on the cutting-edge innovations that will shape the future. For example, the company is developing an electric plane that will travel at a range of up to 320 kilometers, and IAI joined forces with SpaceIL to build and launch the Beresheet lunar spacecraft.
The nonprofit SpaceIL was founded in 2011 as a response to the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which challenged companies to build and launch unmanned spacecraft for a lunar landing. SpaceIL was named a finalist in the competition in 2017, and its success – enabled primarily by private donations – has sparked renewed interest in space among the Israeli public, reprising the “Apollo Effect” of the mid-20th century in the United States. In fact, aside from its “moonshot” space launch, SpaceIL has made it an integral part of its mission to advance the discourse on science and engineering in Israel and to acquaint the young generation with the exciting opportunities in their future. According to their mission-statement: “Through the anticipation and preparation for the historic landing on the moon of an Israeli spacecraft, our non-profit organization motivates students of all ages and sectors – both male and female – to broaden their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and fosters entrepreneurship, innovation, excellence and leadership.”
While Google’s LunarXPrize discontinued in 2018, SpaceIL’s 2015 partnership with IAI marked a pivotal moment in the quest to land an Israeli spacecraft on the moon, culminating in an expected April 2019 lunar landing.
Other companies fueling Israel’s aerospace innovation include the following:
- SatixFy, a semiconductor company founded in 2012, builds satellite communication systems, harnessing in-house chipsets. The company, which has offices in Israel, the UK, and Bulgaria, has developed global partnerships for integrated terminal solutions and to build satellite antennae for better in-flight connectivity on commercial aircraft.
- Plataine leverages sensors, radio-frequency identification, and AI-based algorithms to build more precise and efficient manufacturing systems for a range of industries, including aerospace. Aerospace companies using the company’s technology include Airbus and IAI.
- Assembrix’s cloud-based platform for 3D industrial printing has been used to product light-weight parts for aerospace clients, with lower fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions and improved safety. In 2018, Boeing inked a deal to use Assembrix software for securely managing Boeing’s data and IP in product design and manufacturing.
- Utilis uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) – a technique commonly used to search for evidence of water on other planets – to find fresh water leakages on Earth. With 32 billion cubic meters of water lost annually, identifying such leakages can go a long way toward reducing waste and alleviating global thirst. Utilis detects five to 12 leaks daily, compared to one to two leaks per week usually detected by standard methods.
- NSLComm is revolutionizing satellite communications with a fabric-like, expandable antenna that may boost performance by up to 100x to 500x. By launching small and unfolding once in space, NSL’s antenna opens a wide array of new applications.
- SpacePharma’s DIDO nanosatellite supports biological research in microgravity. Microgravity conditions have the potential to enable new advances in stem cell therapies, cell culturing, protein crystallization, microbiological research, and more, as microgravity sparks unique responses and behavior in various biological phenomena.
More than seven decades in the making, Israel’s aerospace industry is testimony to the country’s commitment to science and innovation – and with Beresheet’s lunar mission captivating Israelis and international observers alike, the country’s star is shining even brighter.