What do salmons and Israeli satellites have in common


I was listening to a radio program about satellites, notably about Israeli satellites. I

srael, despite its small size and young age, has already reached the status of “space superpower“, a title reserved to only seven countries in the world: Russia, US, England, Japan, India, France and China. What criteria make a country a space superpower? Essentially the capacity to develop, manufacture and launch its own satellites. Israel joined the exclusive club 21 years ago, with the launching of its first satellite, Ofeq-1. In a very short time, Israel satellite industry became one of the most advanced in the world.

Israel administers several types of satellites: the Ofeq series for reconnaissance purpose, the Amos series for communications (although the GPS kind remains a prerogative of American satellites), and the Eros series for observation. The Israeli industry is specializing in light weighted, miniaturized devices, which allow for low-cost and high-reliability launches to a low earth orbit. The so-called TechSat technology was developed in the 1980s as a university-based project at the Technion Center of Haifa, which thus became one of the few universities in the world to have designed, built and launched a satellite.

Israel’s space research is currently focused on high-resolution imaging satellites. The Ofek type devices today integrate one of the best space cameras in the world, developed by  “El Op” (the Electro-optic Industries). Israeli satellites have become so sophisticated that they can read through any weather condition, to a detail of a 70 cm object on earth. This is possible thanks to a state-of-the-art radar technology, which enables to send back high-definition images even at night or through clouds.

But here comes the bit which made me chuckle while listening to the program. There seems to be something in common between salmons and Israeli satellites. In fact, a rather odd peculiarity of Israeli satellites  is that they travel in the opposite sense of all the others. They travel westbound instead of eastbound,which means against the natural rotation of the earth. This rather illogical – and less cost-effective –  trajectory is determined by the impossibility for Israel to launch satellites over neighboring Arab countries (ouch! Politics… again). Israel can only launch over the Mediterranean sea. Going against the earth rotation translates into a greater energy loss. This is why Israel has to work in the direction of miniaturizing.

What can I say? The story of Israeli satellites seems emblematic of the country which produced them: small, and working against all odds.

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