Israel's military avatar: Robots on the battlefield, I

fact that unlike other countries which launch their orbiters eastward and can therefore take advantage of the speed of the earth’s spin, Israel launches westward for regional security reasons, against the direction of the earth’s rotation. As a result, the Israeli launches lose a great deal of energy.

The solution was to reduce the size of the satellite and all of its component parts, its engine and photographic instruments. “Our miniaturization capability comes from the security requirements,” says Ben-Israel. “It was strengthened after the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt, because ironically it was then that we found ourselves unable to send planes on aerial photography missions into Sinai to check out the deployment of forces there.”

Launching a 250-kilogram satellite costs an estimated $75 million, while the satellite itself costs $100-200 million, depending on its payload. They last for six or seven years in space. The evolving threats require ongoing technological upgrades. “We want to go down to satellites that weigh less than 100 kilograms,” says Ben-Israel. “That way, the launch obstacle will be removed. Today, to launch a satellite at the appropriate speed an expensive rocket is required. If it were possible to launch it from a jet fighter aircraft, for example, it would be a much easier proposition. It would be possible to put satellites in orbit for much less money and at any time. It is beginning to become feasible in these very days.”

The next generation of satellites, now being developed, will weigh ten kilograms (micro-satellites) or one kilogram (nano-satellites) and some speak of even lighter ones. They will orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers above the surface of the earth. Ben-Israel says one way of sending up a 100-kilogram orbiter without losing any of its operational capability is to break it into 10 units each weighing 10 kilograms.

Technology must be developed, however, that will be enable each part to migrate to the correct place after launch, after which they will continue to orbit together as a cluster. “That’s the direction being taken,” says Ben-Israel. “That way, each part can be shot from a plane separately and even at different times, and in this manner build the satellite in space over a week.”

Rafael’s Postman believes that a satellite weighing less than 100 kilograms will cost eight to 10 times less than a large orbiter. “Because it will cost less, it will be possible to put a formation of 10 satellites into space, and to time their orbits in such a way that it will be possible to maintain an unbroken 24-

hour watch over the enemy,” he says.

The main problem with micro-satellites is that their shelf life in space is shorter than larger ones, by approximately one or two years. However, because of the relatively lower costs, he believes, this will be the direction taken by many states seeking to avail themselves of observation satellites.

I believe that Israel will bring these good tidings to the world, because it requires miniaturization of communications and electrical propulsion that not every country is capable of.”

Tomorrow:  Beyond miniaturization: More unique technologies from Israel