Israel Could Host Glonass Ground Station Under Framework Deal with Russia

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TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli-based ground station for improving the accuracy of Russia’s Glonass satellite navigation system is one of several scientific and dual-use commercial projects that could emerge from a Russian-Israeli framework agreement for space cooperation signed March 27.

Specialists from the two countries have already begun feasibility talks about a Glonass station in Israel’s Negev desert region, where flat land expanses and clear skies promise to provide new angles for measuring the distance between Earth’s surface and Russia’s constellation of navigation satellites.

Government and industry sources here said the ground measuring station is a likely candidate for near-term cooperation provided under the new bilateral accord signed in the Jerusalem office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, and his Israeli counterpart Zvi Kaplan.

“Russia wants to advance its Glonass navigation network, and they are looking for more tracking stations,” Kaplan, director of the Israel Space Agency (ISA), said in a March 27 interview.

The ISA chief noted that the framework agreement has been years in the making, and will require careful cultivation by a Russian-Israeli working group — as well as funding from the Israeli government — before it translates to actual projects. Moreover, government and industry sources here say projects involving significant Israeli transfers of technology to Russia will require delicate consultations with Washington before being given a green light to proceed.

Israeli sources said Perminov and other Russian space officials have expressed interest in joint projects based on Israel’s small-sized and very high-resolution remote sensing satellites.

However, an Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) official said Israel has not even begun to consider export licenses for such projects. The only possible exception, the official said, could involve operating partner agreements with ImageSat International, should Russia be interested in tasking the Israeli company’s Eros commercial satellites to collect imagery of its own geographic territory.

“As much as we’re interested in expanding strategic cooperation and trade ties with Russia, we cannot risk any upsets in our ties with America,” the official said.

Kaplan said for the foreseeable future, projects to come from the new Russian-Israeli framework agreement will be scientific and heavily focused on civilian applications of Israel’s broad portfolio of dual-use space technologies. “It’s true that our industries can offer added value in all that pertains to small, high-performance satellites, but we have to consider our friends in the United States,” he said.

At the March 27 signing ceremony, Netanyahu told Perminov of his positive talks in Moscow the previous week with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. “This agreement reflects the impressive developments in relations between our two countries,” Netanyahu said.

Daniel Hershkovitz, Israel’s science and technology minister, said Israeli academia and industry have much to offer as a bilateral working group evaluates potential areas of cooperation in the fields of space research, observation, navigation, medicine and advanced research. “We have advantages and capabilities over many space-faring nations, and the fact that Russia — a space pioneer — is interested in purchasing indigenous capabilities from us is a huge honor for the state of Israel,” he said.

Kaplan said neither government wants the recently inked agreement to “sit in the drawer, gathering dust,” and that both sides would press ahead in the coming months to identify potential projects for the near, immediate and longer term.

He noted that four Israeli-made satellites were deployed by Russian launchers — two Amos communications satellites and two Eros dual-use imaging satellites — and that the Amos-5 is being built by Russia’s Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems. “Our industries have already developed considerable commercial ties, and this framework agreement allows our governments to become actively involved in promoting new avenues of cooperation for mutual benefit,” Kaplan said.