NASA could be Israel's ticket to space
Recently NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embarked on his first international trip as chief of the space agency. Israel was the first stop on the diplomatic journey. Bridenstine met with a variety of players in the Israeli government and private sector. He signed an agreement to forge a partnership with Israel for NASA’s program to return to the moon, a sound move, considering that country’s growing expertise in technology.
According to Space News, Bridenstine left open the possibility of flying an Israeli astronaut on a future mission. When such an opportunity would arise is unclear. The commercial crew vehicles being developed by SpaceX and Boeing are facing further delays before they become operational. The Orion spacecraft, to be launched on the heavy lift Space Launch System, will fly sometime in the early 2020s.
It should be noted that Israeli Air Force pilot Ilan Ramon flew on the space shuttle Columbia. He perished along with the rest of the crew when the shuttle orbiter broke apart in the skies over Texas.
Israel and any other country with technological expertise and which has friendly relations with the United States should, by all means, partner with NASA. The advantages of participating in the International Space Station and the upcoming return to the moon go without saying. Indeed, Bridenstine signed partnership agreements with a number of other countries, including the U.A.E., which has its own astronaut corps.
However, if Israel or any other country really wants to make its presence known in space, it should also start partnering with the commercial space sector.
Besides the two commercial crew vehicles, which may be flying regularly by 2020, private space is on the verge of an explosion that could be compared to the computer revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. Blue Origin, the company founded by Jeff Bezos, is due to start flying the orbital New Glenn by 2020. SpaceX intends to start testing its huge reusable rocket, the BFR or Big Falcon Rocket, next year, with orbital and then deep space flights to happen a few years later.
Companies such as Bigelow and Axiom plan to deploy private space stations, encouraged and supported by NASA, which will eventually serve as successors to the International Space Station. Other companies, such as Moon Express and Planetary Resources, aim to mine the moon and asteroids respectively.
All of this activity serves as an opportunity for a small, but technologically advanced country like Israel that might want to make a name for itself in space.
If the Israelis play it’s cards right, the next Israeli astronaut may not be sponsored by NASA but rather will fly into space on a commercial rocket, either to one of the planned private space stations or even to the lunar surface.
SpaceIL, which plans to land the first private robotic probe to the lunar surface, has already pointed the way. The Israeli mission to the moon is due to lift off in December on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The model is a perfect one to follow for more ambitious Israeli space missions.
It should be noted, also, that NASA itself is likely to fly the majority of its future crewed missions into space on commercial rockets. NASA Administrator Bridenstine defends the very expensive Orion and Space Launch System as national assets.
However, the NASA-developed systems will be harder to support if and when commercial spacecraft are regularly flying at a fraction of the cost. The Orion/SLS system may be consigned to just a few missions while private rockets dominate the heavens.
The coming commercial space boom will provide far more opportunities at far less cost for more customers than traditional government-run space travel has ever been able to produce. Israel will not be the only country to take advantage of these new openings. However, it can be among the first.
'Mark Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” '