©Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Israel's space program was born out of military need, but in recent years the civil space program has received an infusion of funding and next week it will host the annual International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem.
It's the second time Israel has hosted the annual gathering of space leaders, industry, scientists and students which is organized by the International Astronautical Federation with co-organizers the International Academy of Astronautics and the International Institute of Space Law. Jerusalem was also the host city for the 1994 Congress.
This years Congress is different for Israel than the one it hosted in 1994. Its space program has expanded well beyond its military needs.
In 2012 the Israel Space Agency saw its budget increase to 180 million Israeli New Shekels ($48.3M USD) per year as part of a five year civil space program expansion. Combined with an estimated $70M in military spending on its space program, the Israeli government spent approximately $118.3M this past year.
However as Isaac Ben-Israel, Chairperson, Israel Space Agency, pointed out to SpaceRef in an interview, for every dollar spent by the government, industry spends 4 or 5 dollars. And since the civil, military and commercial programs all work closely together the net effect is a tightly focused program.
According to Professor Ben-Israel, the Israel Space Agency has requested 300 million Israeli New Shekels ($78M USD) for its next budget which he expects the government to approve later this month. That would be a significant increase to their civil space program. But according to Professor Ben-Israel it's all part of a five year plan.
During our interview Professor Ben-Israel points out that while Israel's space budget remains modest, its competitiveness vis-a-vis other space nations is very strong citing Futron's Space Competitiveness Index where Israel is ranked 9th in the 2014 index but has been as high as eight. Professor Ben-Israel firmly believes that if Israel stays the course it can rise in the rankings which, if it did, would be at the expense of countries like South Korean and Canada. To rise any higher would pit it against Indian and Japan, something that is not likely to happen to in the near future.
The Congress starts next Monday, October 12 and runs through Friday the 16th. One of the events preceding the Congress is the Space Generation Congress geared towards university students and young professionals.
A few of the highlights at the Congress include the annual Head of (Space) Agencies plenary, Small Satellites - Big Opportunities in the New Age plenary, The Moon - A Continent and Gateway for our Future plenary and a press conference with Buzz Aldrin.
Along with the plenaries and highlight lectures there are 180 technical sessions and a Global Networking Forum.