TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is developing a small, electrically powered communications satellite projected to weigh less than half and cost "tens of percent" cheaper than comparable-performance spacecraft on today's market, IAI Chief Executive Yossi Weiss said Monday.
Interviewed by Defense News on the opening day of the 66th International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem, Weiss said the new satellite — dubbed Amos-E — will weigh less than 2 tons, offer at least 15 years of geosynchronous orbital operations, and be suitable for launch from smaller, lower-cost conventional launchers.
Now in advanced stages of development, Weiss said the firm is already talking to two potential customers and is being assisted by the Israel Space Agency, "which has experience in advancing this type of project."
"The concept is innovative in that it uses electrical propulsion, which is much more efficient and smaller compared to chemical propulsion systems," Weiss said. "That translates into a system that is much smaller, more flexible and much more affordable — tens of percent more affordable — than comparable systems on today's market."
In a company notice released Monday, Opher Doron, general manager of IAI's Space Division, said Amos-E is expected to kickoff a new product line that will allow the firm to enter new niches of the communications satellite market. He said Amos-E is "generating great interest among potential customers" who seek "complete satellite operation capabilities at a competitive price."
Meanwhile, industry sources here said IAI is in the final stages of integration and testing of Amos-6, an estimated $200 million satellite built for its customer, Tel Aviv-based Spacecom.
At 5.3 tons, Amos-6 is the largest communications satellite ever built by IAI. Scheduled for launch in early 2016 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Space-X Falcon 9 launcher, Amos-6 will replace Amos-2, which is nearing the end of its 16-year life.
Rafael Ltd., another Israeli state-owned firm, is providing the integration and system engineering support for Amos-6 and is expected to cooperate with IAI on new downsized, high-powered electric propulsion system slated for Amos-E, Zvi Zukerman, marketing and business development director for Rafael's Space Directorate, told Defense News Monday.
"Rafael provides a variety of propulsion systems, including Hydrazine, cold gas and electrical propulsion as well as the game changer in the market, the low-power electric propulsion solution which will debut on Project Venus," Zuckerman said.
The Rafael executive was referring to VeNUS, a 12-spectral band observation satellite for vegetation and environment monitoring developed through a joint venture of the Israeli and French national space agencies. Based on an IAI micro-satellite bus and Rafael's propulsion system, Project Venus was initially scheduled for launch in 2009, but is now planned for 2017.
In yet another satellite business development, IAI announced Monday that it began construction of a new high-resolution imagery satellite for customers of ImageSat International, now a fully-owned subsidiary of IAI.
Named Eros-C, the new satellite will weigh less than 400 kilograms and will joint Eros-A and Eros-B in low-Earth orbit in 2018, according to the firm.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.