SpaceX Seen as Lead Option To Launch Franco-Israel Sat

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A French-Israeli multispectral imaging research satellite slated for launch in early 2014 could be placed into low Earth orbit by Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), program officials here said.

The Israel Space Agency is responsible for the Project Venus satellite platform, built by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI), the launch vehicle interface and the satellite control center. The French space agency, CNES, is responsible for the vegetation mapping satellite’s imaging camera and science mission center. Elop of Israel is developing the sensor under contract to CNES.

As the prime contractor on Project Venus, IAI is in advanced negotiations with SpaceX to launch the satellite aboard the Falcon 1 or Falcon 9 rocket. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s Falcon 1 or Falcon 9. We want to get the most cost-effectiveness from all launch options under review,” said Yossi Weiss, corporate vice president and general manager of IAI’s Systems, Missiles and Space Group.

In a late January interview, Weiss stressed that no decision has been taken on a launch provider, and that SpaceX is only one of several options, which include India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX mission manager and a featured speaker at the conference, confirmed the advanced negotiations with IAI for the Project Venus launch.

Rafael Ltd. of Israel developed the satellite’s unique hybrid electrical propulsion system. The Project Venus mission profile calls for the satellite to begin operations in a sun-synchronous orbit at 720 kilometers in altitude before lowering itself to 410 kilometers and maneuvering into a different inclination.

“Project Venus actually has two missions: imaging and propulsion technology. Our low-power electrical propulsion system constitutes the technological payload to fly for the first time in this program,” said Jacob Herscovitz, chief systems engineer at Rafael’s Space Systems Directorate.