Responding to questions from the Knesset Science and Technology Committee Chairman Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) on Monday regarding the future of communications satellites in Israel, a field that sustained damage following the explosion of satellite Amos-6, Ofer Doron, head of Israel Aerospace Industries’ MBT Space Division told the committee that “unfortunately, an international bid has been announced for the Amos-8 satellite that will replace it, and an international company is likely to win, bringing an end to Israel’s satellite communications capabilities.”
Amos-6 was a 5.5-ton Israeli Earth communications satellite, one of the Spacecom AMOS series, built by IAI. It was scheduled to be launched on Flight 29 of a SpaceX Falcon 9 to geosynchronous transfer orbit on September 3, 2016. But on September 1, during the run-up to a static fire test, there was an anomaly on the launch pad resulting in a fire and the loss of the vehicle and its payload, Amos-6. There were no injuries.
Doron reminded the committee that “seven months have passed since the committee published its conclusions, satellites continue to spin around the world and are not waiting for Israel. We pay a lot of money to lease the satellite that replaced Amos-6.”
“We began dispersing the teams which planned Amos-8, and I believe that in the near future we will halt all operations in this field. We already stopped the purchasing activities”, said Doron.
But Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) insisted, “We are waiting for a decision by the Minister of Finance regarding the budgeting of the plan presented by the Director General of the Ministry, together with the professional team assembled following the explosion. Once we receive the green light and know we have money, we will submit it to the Cabinet.”
MK Maklev said, “We held discussions on this topic, turned to the Minister of Finance and mentioned that the issue of communications satellites should be a national mission; this is the country’s real necessity. We cannot depend on foreign satellites, especially during times of emergency. Sensitive information and communications satellites cannot be at the hands of foreigners. This is a national and public matter”.
Michal Geva of the Ministry of Finance’s Budget Division said, “The budget for space-related issues next year is $22.58 million, a significant increase. There is a willingness on behalf of the government and the ministries such as Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Science to allocate at least the same budget which was given to Amos-6. There is a need for a greater budget although the satellite is smaller; there is also the issue of insurance of the previous satellite.”
Peretz Vazan, Director General of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said, “The issue of insurance is being examined. If we receive budgets they will obviously be deducted from the costs. We are speaking of some $28.23 million. You said that all ministries are willing to allocate the same budgets; the question is whether the Ministry of Finance is willing to pay the same amount.”