A number of Israeli hi-tech companies have expressed a growing interest in providing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with components to be launched into space, something they appear to be willing to go to great lengths to achieve.
NASA's budget will amount to $18.7 billion by 2010, almost double Israel's entire defense budget. OECD estimates assert that global space research incorporates an annual sum of $200 billion, mostly invested by armies and communications companies.
Israel's celebrated hi-tech industry, which prides itself on developments in I-phone and Kindle technologies, has had numerous difficulties in selling its technologies to NASA despite vast experience in developing aircraft components for Israel's Aerospace Industries and defense systems for companies such as Elbit and Rafael.
Israel also has a relatively large number of start-up companies dealing in communications, optics and other fields, which can lend themselves to space research.
"In working with NASA the incentive is much greater than just the money," said former Col. Avi Har-Even, previously Director General of Israel's Space Agency and a current advisor in an EU satellite navigation project.
"Working with NASA is the best business card for any technology company. NASA is one of the most meticulous organizations regarding component reliability," he said, adding that the space administration is extremely thorough in choosing its technology.
"When NASA sends a component of yours into space, everyone lines up to buy it and the whole market becomes open to you," he said.
However, Har-Even explained that getting to that position is no walk in the park. "Israel's political level has failed in exerting its influence and creating large scale collaborations between NASA and Israeli companies," he said.
"The reason is that NASA is a federal organization and its policy is affected by political considerations," Har-Even added. He explained that an American regulation stipulates that products meant for the US space program must be manufactured on US soil.
"We have a lot to offer but it's hard to reach NASA," Har-Even said, claiming that contact is usually only formed when the space administration directly approaches the company with which it is interested in working.
A few exceptions
However, some Israeli companies have managed to secure the desired deals. Sital Technologies, a private company from Kfar-Saba, is one that can boast a NASA collaboration. One of their products is currently used in the NASA LRO satellite, which was launched two months ago in order to scan the surface of the moon.
Sital's component relays data from the satellite's radar to its laser unit, a project achieved by the company after NASA initiated contact with it in 2005. Sital's Marketing and Sales VP Duli Yariv said testing of their product lasted three years and that the deal wasn't particularly lucrative, amounting to only several thousands of dollars.
"Money isn’t the main issue here. Working with NASA allowed us to bolster other projects and led us to collaborations with companies which produce communications, photography and meteorology satellites as well as combat aircrafts," he said.
LeukoDx, a company which produced a device used for conducting blood tests in space, is currently in contact with NASA while their product undergoes advanced testing. It has already completed a space simulation. In this case too, the company isn’t expected to profit large sums of money from the deal.
"What we'll be getting from NASA is funding for the continuation of the research which will enable us to build another set of similar products," said Julien Meissonnier, chemical engineer and LeukoDx's CEO.
Another Israeli company, Simbiotech, which focuses on energy production and operates in Ashkelon, landed a NASA contract for the production of gas from seaweed. Negotiations on a contract lasted over a year, during which the deal was almost canceled due to the Gaza offensive.
"During Operation Cast Lead a NASA delegation visited us right when a Qassam rocket landed near the Ashkelon power station. We were prevented access to the site for three weeks but eventually the visit was held and ended successfully," Professor Ami Ben-Amotz, a scientific advisor in Simbiotech, said.