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The Israel Space Agency will cooperate with its Indian counterpart in launching an infra-red telescope into space by 2005. The head of ISA, Avi Har-Even, in announcing this yesterday, said the agency is now waiting for authorization of special funds to make the necessary upgrades and alterations to the telescope, which was developed in the early 1990s.

The Israeli telescope, which is to be used to map new galaxies, was built in 1993 as part of an international project to launch several telescopes into space using a Russian satellite, the SRG, weighing 6.5 tons. It is relatively small, weighing a mere 32 kilograms and so far has cost $15 million. It was developed by Elop.

The project did not get underway because of repeated delays in the Russian program, mostly resulting from shortfalls in cash. The European Space Agency turned down a Russian request for financial assistance in the project, even though European Union countries were involved in it. Meanwhile, Israel sought other alternatives. At a 2001 conference in Austria, Har-Even recalled, talks began with representatives of the Indian Space Research Organization.

"They planned to launch a communications satellite in 2005 at a height of 36,000 kilometers. We checked whether our telescope would be able to function according to its specifications [it was scheduled to be launched to at least 200,000 kilometers from earth]. It turned out that there is sufficient scientific utility in such a launch."

A month ago an agreement was signed between the two space organizations of the two countries during a visit by Indian officials and scientists to Israel.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared Israel's intention to support the project during his state visit to India two weeks ago.

However, Har-Even has made it clear that the agency has still not received any funding for the project to replace outdated components and alter the telescope to fit in the Indian satellite.

According to the ISA, the data from the telescope will be solely in the interest of scientific research and will be shared by both countries.

Like other telescopes, an infra-red telescope includes mirrors, but these are coated with special materials that reflect infra-red rays, enabling scientist to locate new planets emitting such rays in spite of thick cloud covers of gases.