Next-Gen Israeli Satellite to Seek out Cosmic Explosions, Black Holes

I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven, and assign to your heirs all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your heirs. Genesis 26:4 (The Israel Bible™)

Israel has proven itself to be an expert in building very small but successful satellites. In fact, the Israel Space Agency (ISA) of the Science and Technology Ministry has had a long history of satellite programs both for reconnaissance and commercial purposes. 

Its first satellite, the Ofeq-1 was launched in 1988, from the Palmachim Airbase. Since then, Israel has developed into a significant player in the commercial space arena, with a series of the same name, followed by Eros, a group of observation satellites; Techsat, a researching satellite launched by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and others. 

Now, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and ISA are heading a new international project. Weighing in at just about 160 kilograms, the new type of a scientific satellite is planned to be built in Israel over the next four years, with a projected launch date of 2023. 

Called ULTRASAT, it will carry a telescope designed to observe the universe as it has not been seen it before and operate in a range of light that is normally invisible to us (ultraviolet) with a very large field of view. 

“This unique configuration will help us answer some of the big questions in astrophysics,” says the Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Eli Waxman, ULTRASAT’s principle investigator. These include the formation process of dense neutron stars that merge and emit gravitational waves, how supermassive black holes rule their neighborhoods, how stars explode, where the heavy elements in the Universe come from, the properties of stars that could have habitable planets and more. 

The two recently agreed to initiate work on the project this coming September; in parallel, they are conducting an effort to secure the budget for the entire project. This agreement was reached just as the German DESY Research Center of the Helmholtz Association pledged its support and cooperation for the initiative. Negotiations are also underway with other major space agencies to get ULTRASAT off the ground. The project is expected to cost some $70 million over a projected four years of detailed planning, construction, and launch. 

The ULTRASAT spacecraft will be constructed by the Israeli industries, “putting Israel – and Israeli scientists and engineers – at the forefront of a global movement to explore the universe with small, affordable satellites,” explained ISA director Avi Blasberger. ISA chairman Prof. Itzhak Ben Israel added: “Israeli researchers are embarking on an exciting and challenging journey to put ULTRASAT into orbit.” “A small country – and a small satellite – can produce big results, even in exploring the wonders of distant outer space,” said Weizmann Institute president, Prof. Daniel Zajfman.