Meir Nissim-Nir, head of the department for Satellite Control and Command for Israel Aircraft Industries reveals that the State of Israel possesses strategic capabilities in Space: satellites that produce targets for the Air Force. In an interview for the IAF website, he explains the vast importance of Israeli satellite activities
What is behind the command and control of satellites?
“Unlike most platforms, the Satellite hangs in Space and you need to command its tasks, collect telemetry from it, monitor its status and respond accordingly, and this is all based on information coming down from it. This is the reason that its command and control has such a central role: from the moment of launch, you have the command and control system in your hands but the satellite is far off in space.
We created this ‘little universe’ and we make educated guesses as to what is happening to it, according to the signals that it sends down to us. We have to decipher these signals.
This is the reason that these systems are important, critical and are in constant development. We have gotten to the point that a satellite goes through an update once every two years, meaning that there is a big and visible change to its Satellite Control and Command System, at least once per year”.
What is the importance of the Satellite Control and Command systems for the Air Force and the IDF at large?
“Naturally, the Air Force needs targets, and just like other surveillance systems, the satellite is also a target producing system.
What is important for the targets is their land accuracy, their updatedness and their freshness. These factors can be improved though systems found on the ground. The things that are complicated in the area of satellite command and control are the preparation for a specific task, how long it takes, the level of complexity of the system, and what is done to reduce the amount of time. Once the photography is done, other systems participate in the process of dealing with downloading data and processing.
Thanks to these systems, it is possible to transfer a target in a short amount of time and with high precision. The safe and fast uploading of the satellite’s commands, the quick response and the quick downloading of all the required data and their immediate processing, all of these are important to an operational arm like the Air Force”.
What is the difference between the Satellite Command and Control systems from abroad and those produced in Israel?
“The truth is that there is no difference, everyone thinks the same. You stand in front of the same world of problems with the same mathematical tools.
I think that we have some advantages in the area of task planning, that in contrast to how things develop in parallel industries in the United States and worldwide where they don’t always take the approach of giving up10 percent of the satellite’s photography potential in order to gain more operational years and greater operational ease”.
Are you already selling the systems?
“We just started to think about that now. All in all, no one planned in advanced that Satellite Command and Control would be so expensive and so massive. For many years the system wasn’t perfect from a software engineering perspective. It had the basic components, the algorithms, but the user interface wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t user friendly.
In recent years, we already understood that it is necessary to give this system the space and the budget that it deserves, such that we began thinking about selling”.
Are Satellite Command and Control systems in civilian use?
“Absolutely. There is a subsidiary company of the Israel Aircraft Industries that operates a series of Eros Satellites with similar operating methods.
The last time we switched the system for them was before the launch of the Eros B and we are currently negotiating an additional system launch”.
In what arenas are these systems useful?
“If , with their help, you photograph Tel Aviv or another place, it is already a matter of who is taking the picture. We are dealing with the technological side of system development and I will answer in the direction of the future of satellites: the advantage is that the satellite is non-invasive, at least for now. That doesn’t mean that it won’t change in the future.
You never know where a satellite is looking. We, those who command it and who receive the controlling telemetry from it, of course know. But those who direct huge radar systems into Space and follow the satellites don’t see their targets. Maybe its possible to see when a satellite will pass by a certain area, but you don’t know where it is looking.
Satellite’s separation capacity is improving and this is something that has been developing since the first photographic satellite was launched. This is a capability that will continue to be essential in the satellite world: the ability to acquire up to date information without leaving a sign that you are interested in a specific place. On the other hand, with this method, you can store vast amounts of information in all kinds of places and accumulate an archive”.