WASHINGTON — The head of Israel Aerospace Industries’ space division says he is confident the Israeli government will order more communications satellites beyond Dror-1, a national satellite it ordered last month to keep Israel’s primary spacecraft factory from going dormant.
“I am sure there will be follow-on orders,” Boaz Levy, executive vice president and general manager of IAI’s Systems, Missiles and Space Group, said in an interview.
Levy said the company expects to complete the Dror-1 satellite, announced last month, in four years. It will be IAI’s first satellite with a digital payload, in keeping with what most of the of the world’s satellite manufacturers have started building, and will feature better electronics, lightweight parts and other upgrades, he said.
IAI teetered on the edge of shutting down its geostationary satellite communications line in 2018 after Spacecom, its sole commercial customer for that product, chose to order the Amos-8 satellite from Space Systems Loral (now Maxar Technologies).
Spacecom canceled the order after the Israeli government, fearing the country would lose its ability to build communications satellites, said it would contract directly with IAI for Amos-8 and place it at an orbital slot assigned to Spacecom.
Levy said the Israeli government never ordered Amos-8, but that the new Dror program has the potential to keep IAI’s satellite factory open for years to come.
“I’m very glad for the Dror-1 initiation, and I’m sure it will be followed by Dror-2 and others,” he said. “It will give us the right momentum in our space activities.”
Levy said he doesn’t know when the Israeli government will place follow-on orders , but “the requirements of Israel and the government’s decision” to prioritize satellite manufacturing gives him confidence additional orders are forthcoming.
Levy said IAI is interested in building communications satellites for international customers, but declined to say if the company is bidding on any geostationary programs.
He also said IAI has a contract to design a constellation of nanosatellites slightly larger than BGUSAT, a 3U imaging cubesat IAI built with Ben Gurion University that launched in 2017 on an Indian PSLV rocket. He declined to name the customer, offer specifics about the number of satellites, the purpose of the constellation, or say when it would launch.
Levy said IAI also has new customers for remote sensing satellites, though he declined to name them. IAI built the Italian Ministry of Defence’s Optsat-3000 satellite and Venμs, an environmental monitoring satellite for the French and Israeli space agencies.
“We launched them already and we have new ones,” Levy said.
Optsat-3000 and Venμs launched on an Italian Vega rocket in 2017. Levy said IAI specializes in building optical and synthetic aperture radar satellites around 300 to 400 kilograms.