The Science and Technology Committee convened on Sunday to discuss the effects of the destruction of the Amos-6 satellite on the future of Israel`s aerospace and communications industry. The meeting was held with the participation of Minister of Science, Technology, and Space Ofir Akunis and senior aerospace industry officials.
On September 1, SpaceX’s unmanned Falcon 9 rocket exploded during pre-launch tests at Cape Canaveral in Florida and destroyed the advanced Israeli Amos-6 communications satellite. The explosion came just months after communication with the Amos-5 satellite was lost in November 2015, four years after it was launched from Kazakhstan.
Committee Chairman Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) opened the meeting by addressing the ”severe budgetary problems” facing the country`s aerospace industry. ”The State of Israel is at a crossroads,” he said. ”We must determine where we are heading; what our goals are in the aerospace industry. Everyone agrees on the industry`s economic, diplomatic and security-related importance, but we must determine a clear policy so we can head in the right direction. Otherwise, the damage will be immense.”
(Maklev, center, and Akunis during the meeting)
Minister Akunis said he has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately transfer funds for the construction of a new communications satellite. The loss of Amos-5 and Amos-6 ”did not hurt the great capabilities of our industries,” he said. Akunis said he sent a letter to PM Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to ”evaluate giving preliminary funding that will allow the purchase of LLIs long-lead items (the essential parts of satellites) as early as in the coming days.”
Akunis said he spoke to Kahlon earlier this month, and the finance minister pledged ”to do everything possible to help.” The Likud minister also said he had set up a committee to present recommendations on funding.
The Ministry of Science, Technology and Space estimates that the initial cost of purchasing essential components for the production of a new satellite will amount to tens of millions of shekels. Akunis noted that Israel`s aerospace industry is among the top 10 in the world, but added that a new satellite could not be developed with the existing budget.
Science Ministry Director-General Peretz Vazan warned that Israel faces a ”significant shortage” of communications satellites, adding that the country has received ”no new orders from abroad for entire systems.” He said that while the 2017 and 2018 government allocations for the programs (NIS 78 million for 2017 and NIS 86 million for 2018) marked an increase from previous years, it is still insufficient and covers just one-quarter of the estimated NIS 300 million cost.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) said Israel`s presence in space is crucial from an economic and security standpoint. ”From this crisis, we must see how we can narrow the gaps in this field,” he stated.
MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, said, ”The challenge will be the budget for the coming years. It is about prioritizing. This is about whether the State of Israel will [leave] the communications satellite market or not. I think we must fight for this in the coming budget.”
Professor Yitzhak Ben-Israel, Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency, told the committee that the destruction of Amos-6 ”has no effect on our technology or ability.” He said ”Israel needs three to four communication satellites operating all the time. We are now entering a period, which I assess will likely last at least two years, in which we will have two satellites rather than three to four. And this is a problem.”
”It [the transmissions supply] will be sufficient, but only barely,” he added, noting that Israel’s communications infrastructure currently consists solely of two underwater cables and the two remaining satellites.
Michal Gelbert of the Finance Ministry`s Budget Division, said, ”We agreed on a budget of more than 70 million shekels for the years 2017-2018, which will be designated for this field. Changing the budget and all the additions require us to find a source of funding. We are aware of the need and we will discuss it with all the relevant elements to see how we can deal with this issue.”
Committee Chairman Maklev concluded the meeting by saying that ”for all the reasons in the world, we demand that the government set a clear policy. The strategic importance is clear.”