Funding Remains an Issue for Italian-Israeli Mission

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Italy is urging a funding commitment from the Israeli government to initiate plans for a joint hyperspectral satellite program tentatively dubbed Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed at the Paris Air Show last June, the two governments are to share equally in costs to develop and build two satellites, each with a 200-250-spectral-band Earth-observing payload.

EnricoSaggese, president of the Italian Space Agency, said the program will improve upon capabilities developed for Italy’s Prisma, a 550-kilogram system to be flown in 2012. The joint effort with Israel, he said, is expected to improve resolution to “1 meter or below” while multiplying the rate of data transmission.

“We’re looking at 200-plus spectral channels and transmission of data at 300 megabytes per second. The idea is to cover 100,000 square kilometers per day, about one-third of Italy, with a revisit time every seven days,” he said.

In an interview following his conference address, Saggese said the proposed satellites will be too heavy for Israel’s Shavit launcher, and talks are now focused on the European Vega rocket to reach the planned 700-kilometer orbiting altitude.

“We really would like to have this settled with Israel, with funding approval in weeks or very few months,” Saggese said. The program, the first joint space development between the two countries, is an agenda item for scheduled talks here the week of Feb. 1 between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Zvi Kaplan, director of the Israel Space Agency, said Israeli President Shimon Peres and other key leaders are working the issue, but it will take several more months to secure needed funding. “We need to proceed cautiously and methodically, since it’s such a big program. If we rush, we risk refusal,” he said.