Israeli government and industry leaders are awaiting NASA’s choice for its next Discovery-class planetary mission, one of some 30 candidates for which is a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging satellite designed to peer through the dense clouds obscuring the surface of Venus.

Israeli and U.S. sources say the MuSAR Venus orbiter mission, proposed by an IAI-Northrop Grumman team, has advanced to the final competitive stages, with potential awards estimated at several hundred million dollars. “Our operationally proven SAR satellite is about a third of the weight of alternative systems with a resolution very similar to the very high-resolution optical satellites developed here … and when you combine lower weight and imaging quality, we’re looking at a factor of 10 in our favor,” Isaac Ben-Israel, ISA chairman, told conference participants here.

Others here, however, were less than optimistic about the chances of NASA awarding such a sizable program to a non-U.S. developer, despite Northrop Grumman’s lead role in the jointly submitted bid.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver demurred when asked about the prospects for MuSAR becoming Israel’s first major cooperative program with the U.S. space agency, citing sensitivities associated with ongoing competitions. “Since we’re in the middle of a competition, anything I say will be unhelpful,” Garver said.