The launch of the Ofek 7 satellite
The launch of the Ofek 7 satellite by a Shavit rocket in 2007. Photo by Courtesy of Israel Aerospace Industries
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The state will invest NIS 300 million a year for the next five years in the Israeli space program in order to jump-start a possible $10 billion a year civilian space industry. It's all part of a new space plan that was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres recently.

A few months ago Peres and Netanyahu assigned a new mission to the head of the Israel Space Agency and to the Science and Technology Ministry: To draw up a national space program.

Science and Technology Ministry Director General Menachem Greenblum and space agency chairman Yitzhak Ben Yisrael were responsible for the plan. The space agency is a part of the Science Ministry.

Peres, who has been a strong supporter of Israeli aerospace initiatives for years, expects the industry to develop into a major source of business. He believes that Israel's defense industries and experience gives it significant advantages in the area. Netanyahu is also considered a fervent supporter of the the space industry.

The international space industry is undergoing major changes, including privatization. The civilian space market is worth an estimated $250 billion a year.

Sources in the defense establishment estimate that Israel could grab up to 5% of this market.

Greenblum and Ben Yisrael hope the program will be included in the 2011-2012 state budget: "If the space budget is not included in the present budget, we will lose two important years," said Ben Yisrael.

The defense establishment has its own space program, which mainly focuses on developing satellites, such as the Ofek series, used observing neighboring states.

One of only 8 countries with satellite launch capability

The civilian space program receives about $75 million a year from the state, earmarked for specific projects. It is not included in the regular state budget and is independent from the defense establishment.

The new national space program is aimed at helping the 25 Israeli firms in the sector, such as Israel Aerospace Industries, Elbit and Rafael, to expand their activities in the civilian market.

The five-year plan is divided into two stages, the first of three years and the second of two years. In each stage participating companies will be required to complete certain tasks aimed at enabling them to compete in civilian markets, such as switching the photo capabilities of the Eros satellite from black and white to color.

Israel has been in the space business for 30 years. It is considered to be one of only eight countries with satellites launch capability, but its share of the international civilian market is tiny. "Sales by Israel's space industry reached only about $800 million in 2009," said Ben Yisrael.