Israel and Russia on Sunday signed a space cooperation agreement, with the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, making a special visit to Jerusalem to attend the signing ceremony.
The framework agreement is meant to foster joint research programs and other collaborations in areas like astrophysical and planetary research, space biology and medicine, navigational satellites and launching services and technology. It also outlines guidelines for cooperation in intellectual property and scientific exchanges.
This agreement joins previous ones signed by Israel with the European Space Agency as well as the space agencies of France and Italy. The Science Ministry said in a statement yesterday that both the industrial and scientific communities will benefit from the new agreement. "We expect the agreement will be implemented through the shared activities of the research and industrial institutions of the two countries," Dr. Zvi Kaplan, head of the Israeli Space Agency, told Haaretz. He said there are several framework agreements with other countries that are not being implemented because of lack of investment by Israel or its partners.
The signing ceremony took place in the Prime Minister's Office, in the presence of Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, Roscosmos director Anatoly Perminov, Kaplan and experts from both countries.
Hershkowitz called Israel "a world power" in the space field. "We have abilities and advantages over many other countries and the fact that Russia, a pioneer in space, wants to acquire Israeli expertise is a great honor for the State of Israel," he said.
Perminov told Haaretz he was interested in cooperating with Israel "to develop a micro-system weighing up to 230 kilograms for remote sensing of Earth from space at advanced resolution."
The Roscosmos chief also spoke about his agency's agenda for the near future. "We're planning to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035," he said, noting that last year the agency began working on a nuclear engine capable of covering such a distance. He estimated it would be ready in about nine years.
Israel has distinguished itself internationally in recent years for its success in reducing the size of space-bound equipment. Its expertise in the area has been attributed to its unique practice of launching satellites westwards, against the direction of the earth's revolution and in the exact opposite direction of most of rest of the world. Motivated by the need to avoid launching missiles over its neighbors to the east, Israeli scientists have focused on reducing the weight of Israeli space technology to ease the burden on them.