Israel to Launch Its First Environmental Satellite

Artist’s rendering of VENµS in orbit (Ben Gurion University)

Israel is sending its first environmental research satellite into space next week. VENµS – an acronym for “Vegetation and Environment Monitoring on a New Micro Satellite” – will be launched into space next Wednesday from French Guiana. The satellite, a flagship project of the Israel Space Agency (ISA) in the Science Ministry and its French counterpart CNES, is currently in the midst of final preparations at Arianspace space center before its expected launch from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou at 4:58 a.m. Israel time on August 2.

VENµS is Israel’s first scientific observation satellite and Prof. Arnon Karnieli, head of the Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research in Sede Boqer, is the Israeli principal investigator, according to Ben Gurion University, a main sponsor of the project. This is the second satellite project in which Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has been involved following the successful launch of a nano-satellite earlier this year, the university said.

Environmental research satellites have become increasingly important in recent years in light of rising environmental hazards such as population overcrowding, the dwindling of arable land, pollution and natural disasters. The satellite will track agricultural fields and other natural areas, recording data about the status of the land, foliage, forestation, agriculture, quality of water sources and more. The satellite will transmit images every two days of the chosen research sites worldwide to Karnieli and Dr. Gerard Dedieu of France’s CESBIO. The first images are expected to be available to researchers on November 1, according to the university.

The micro satellite, built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will weigh 265 kg at launch and will enter a geo-synchronous orbit at a height of 720 kilometers within two days of the launch. The satellite will orbit the earth 29 times each 48-hour cycle and is expected to remain in orbit for 4.5 years, after which the satellite will move to a lower orbit 410 kilometers from earth. The Israel Space Agency in the Science Ministry has invested NIS 5 million in research projects based on the satellite images that will be produced.

VENµS is equipped with a special camera that scans the earth in 12 wavelengths, far more than a human eye can discern. According to Prof. Karnieli, one of the unique characteristics of the camera is its ability to photograph in the four “red-edge” wavelengths. This is a relatively narrow spectral area that will enable the scientists to better quantify the state and dynamics of vegetation at the chosen research sites.

“The combined unique characteristics of the satellite, e.g., a high spatial resolution of 5 meters, high spectral resolution of 12 narrow bands, and high revisit time of two days, is essential for monitoring agricultural crops in accordance with the concept of ‘precision agriculture,’” Karnieli said. “This concept allows the farmer to see the spatial and temporal changes of his crops not just on the scale of the entire field, but on an intra-field scale of small plots. Such a concept helps the farmer to conserve his resources and to protect the land and ground water from surpluses of water, fertilizers and pesticides.”

Karnieli plans to create a national archive of the images, which will be available for research purposes but not commercial ones. In the future, they will serve as an important climate change tracking resource as images from future satellites will be able to be compared to the VENµS images, Ben Gurion University said.

Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis said that “Israel is renowned the world over for its courage and innovation, elements which are expressed in the technological development of VENµS as well. We are filled with pride to see this long-awaited project of the best engineers and researchers in Israel led by the Israel Space Agency and the French Space Agency (CNES) reach fruition.”

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