Last week, the author of this article was lucky enough to be the only Ukrainian journalist who was invited by the Israeli foreign ministry for the Eighth Annual International Ilan Ramon Space Conference, which took place in Tel Aviv from January 29 to 31. This trip included visits to well-known Israeli defense enterprises. The workers at the Embassy of the State of Israel to Ukraine were happy to learn that I have a degree in engineering. I have to admit that I have dreamt to see Israeli defense system from the inside, because I have worked for a big defense enterprise in Kyiv for 20 years, and after that I have been covering the activity of military-industrial complexes around the world for the Defense Express Agency for 5 years.
Every state and every nation treats space in a different way. Some countries consider the membership in the space club to be a demonstration of their own importance, the others view it as an element of keeping the neighboring countries in check, or even blackmailing, and the third type cannot afford this expensive luxury. Israel thinks this sphere to be the most important for the guarantee of its own safety as well as for gaining profit from space activity. And holding the Annual International Space Conference that bears the name of Ilan Ramon is the proof of the particular degree of attention that is given to space in Israel. The conference was named after the first Israeli astronaut who died on February 1, 2003, while carrying out a mission on the board of the Columbia. Traditionally, the conference opens with a ceremony of commemoration of Ilan Ramon, who has become an idol for many Israeli children.
Heads of the national space agencies of 12 countries were invited to participate in the Eighth Annual International Space Conference. Head of the National Space Agency of Ukraine Yurii Aleksieiev was among them. The Israeli foreign ministry also invited journalists from Ukraine, Brazil, Norway, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic to cover the conference and activity of the leading Israeli defense enterprises. And the accent was made on Israeli space branch.
And indeed, it is unique. The following fact proves it: Israel has to launch satellites westward, instead of eastward, that is against the direction of Earth’s rotation. This increases the expenses for the launch of rocket carriers by a third, or even more. The head of the Israeli Space Agency Yitzhak Ben Yisrael commented this once in a following way: “When we are asked why we launch satellites towards the west, we say that it is so because we study physics in Hebrew.” Indeed, unlike the majority of languages, in Hebrew words are written and read from right to left. But in reality, Israel is forced to launch satellites westward because this country borders with enemies on the east, so they cannot launch carriers that way.
Ben Yisrael noted that the new national civil space program focused on space exploration for preservation of life on Earth and a better understanding of the Universe. “Israel views space as a technological motivator, a key to the modern society and the advanced, information-based economy, and also as a resource of involvement of highly-professional experts,” he stated.
In his turn, the CEO of the MBT department at the Space Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd Ofer Doron said that space for Israel is not only the means of security, but also an incentive to cognition of things that are located beyond the boundaries. According to him, achievements in this area also stimulate the development of industry, science, and education.
It is remarkable that with the help of this conference Israel openly propagates its achievements in the space branch. On the one hand, it attracts more customers interested in space production, and on the other, motivates youth to choose science as their career.
A lot of students and soldiers were present at the conference. The first got there because they chose to have a course of natural sciences during their holidays (in particular, a course of astrophysics), and the second were present because they serve in military forces that are related to space or aviation, and in this way they displayed interest to this branch while being off duty.
Leading Israeli companies that deal in space research organized an exhibition in one of the Fisher Institute halls. American space agency NASA, European space agency CNES, Italian ASI, Danish DTU-space, and Norwegian NSC presented their own stands at the exhibition.
Unfortunately, the National Space Agency of Ukraine did not present its own stand there. Does Ukrainian space branch have nothing to demonstrate or at least have a need to remind of itself? It is strange that the head of the NSAU Aleksieiev did not participate in the discussion “Space Exploration – Global Vision and Future Plans,” even though he was present at the reception, which took place on the eve of the conference opening. Did he not want to discuss the topic of space development with the administrator of NASA Charles Bolden, CNES president Yannick d’Escatha, and head of the ISA Ben Yisrael?
Aleksieiev was expected at the MBT Space Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd and at the ISA. But he never appeared to the planned meetings and did not inform of the reasons of his absence. Informants told the author that they were worried if the head of the NSAU was safe. The agency itself told The Day that the head was on a business trip.
In general, during the two days of the conference, Aleksieiev and his party were nowhere to be seen at the space conference. Only deputy designer general of the Construction Department “Pivdenne” Oleksandr Kushnariov was present there with an interpreter, who translated his report “Maiak: a New Family of Space Carriers” into English. Kushnariov spoke Russian and he has not said anything new, because all this information can be found on the Internet. And besides, nobody seems to be interested in information that their construction department modernizes and improves designs created in the 1980s.
It should be mentioned that all Israeli researchers used Hebrew during their speeches, and all the guests spoke English. Maybe, that is the reason why the NSAU delegation did not participate in the conference, or perhaps, there is another reason why they considered this event to be not worth of their attention. But how should this trip be understood? Is it some kind of “space” tourism at the expense of the host? And on the other hand, this leads to the conclusion that our space officials have nothing to say.
But they could have learned much by attending the conference and visiting Israeli space agencies. They could have learned what their colleagues were up to, what was new in the area of space research, what other countries were working on, or agree upon cooperation. The latter was done by the Kazakhstan Space Agency, which signed an agreement with ISA. Or they could at least inquire about the ways school students in Israel are motivated to learn about space, study astrophysics and other natural sciences.
Ben Yisrael answered this last question in a curious way. He said that according to the research, children are the most interested in space. Robotics comes second, and dinosaurs occupy the third place. “That is why our task for now is to make a dinosaur robot and launch him into space,” Ben Yisrael joked.
Meanwhile, the head of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, retired Brigadier General Asaf Agmon said at the press conference for journalists that they started to introduce natural science to children in kindergartens in Israel. “We show them that science is cool, they can reveal themselves there. We do this to help as many people as possible become engineers and scientists,” he said.
By the way, school students listened with a great deal of attention to American astronaut, Colonel Randy Bresnik, who delivered a fascinating speech on the ways space research is used in medicine.
The whole audience listened even more attentively about the latest discoveries from Mars, which were made thanks to Mars rover Curiosity. One of the heads of this NASA mission, John M. Grunsfeld, demonstrated footage of the spacecraft’s landing on Mars and the reaction of a hundred workers who were engaged in preparation for the flight.
Professor of the Tel Aviv University Eyal Ben Dor made an interesting speech too. He talked about how hyperspectral images from space help determine the quality of water and soil, see if the plants are healthy, and even check if the concrete walls are strong or not. According to him, people need to start working in the cubic dimension, then they will be able to see further in galaxy.
Israelshows that it has a goal and knows how to reach it. They were forced to launch a satellite against the direction of Earth’s rotation, and they have accomplished it. They had to make their satellites lighter in weights because of that, and they succeeded. And now there are six Israeli satellites on the earth orbit now, and some of them still work, even though their planned service life is over. They wanted to protect the citizens from the Grad missiles fired by HAMAS members from the Gaza Strip, and they developed Iron Dome, which proved its effectiveness at the end of the last year.
But unfortunately, we still do not know the goal of our National Space Agency, and what is more important, we do not know if it is able to achieve it. Moreover, last Wednesday one more country joined the ranks of space explorers. For the first time, South Korea carried out a satellite launch with its own carrier. It is obvious that no more orders for satellite launches are to be expected from this country, even though it used to happen before. The competition in the space branch will only grow, and this provokes a question: will Ukraine be able to win it, since we seem to be resting on the laurels of old developments, while the world changes, and the pace increases every year.