Friday, February 25, 2011

Vision for Space

Chicago native Joel S. Rothman, National President of the American Technion Society 
(ATS), dedicated the Jeri and Joel S. Rothman Family Seminar Room with his wife, Jeri, 
and two sons, Michael and Ben, at the June 2010 Board of Governors meeting. Prof.
Ehud Behar, director of the Asher Space Research Institute (ASRI), noted that Chicago
is the biggest contributor to ASRI.

Joel said that his journey with the ATS to Technion began some 25 years ago. “This 
week is an exceptional milestone… I share my gratitude and affection, with those who 
befriended Jeri and I … the ‘Chicago Mafia’ all made us welcome and feel at home.” 
Jeri said, “Technion has become our family in Israel.”

(l-r) Prof. Ehud Behar, Michael, Joel, Jeri

and Ben Rothman, and Prof. Peretz Lavie at
Technion’s Asher Space Research Institute

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Israel Airforce Article on ASRI: Great Q&A on the future in SPACE education.

This week, the "Technion" celebrates its 99th birthday. If, at its inception, they debated whether to teach in Hebrew or German, today they are figuring out how to launch a satellite to space. The IAF website spoke with Professor Ehud Bachar, head of the Space Research Institute at the Technion, concerning what the university is doing in Space research and where the State of Israel finds itself regarding the field of study
Which Satellite projects are on the Technion's agenda?
"We are the only university in Israel that has built and that intends to continue building satellites. Today we are beginning a nano-satellite program. Nano-satellites are, essentially, small satellites whose main task is technological checking.

Before we build very large satellites with very advanced instrumentation, we check the technology with a small satellite that weighs just a few kilograms. We are going to open a laboratory that will be used to build such satellites. This initiative is unique to the Technion among Israeli universities and is a continuation of the creation of our original satellite, the "TECHSAT2". Right now we are talking about a project that is still in its planning stages and has yet to have begun being built.

Additionally, students in our space and aeronautics department are doing a final project that deals with the configuration of nano-satellite's that should be able to identify a source of radiation on the ground, for rescue purposes. The idea is like this: say a man falls from a boat and assume he has a small transmitter the size of a wrist-watch on him. With the help of this transmitter satellites can provide a precise description of his location. Of course we are talking about operations that satellites already do, but I don't think anyone else is using the satellite like this.

There are other important aspects of Space research that we are dealing with. For example, we have a patent on an engine named Camilla, that we are developing together with the RAFAEL Company. We also have a propulsion laboratory that we use to check electric engines. This is a national infrastructure that the RAFAEL Company also uses to check engines. We also have another great laboratory for various space systems. There we can do a simulation of a group of satellites, that is to say, how satellites work in groups and conduct tasks together autonomously.

We are just beginning to understand the importance of this field. If we can apply the idea of building nano-satellites, I hope that one day we can conduct demonstration missions like that in Space. Today we do everything in the laboratory: we have robots that go around on tables without friction, simulating two dimensional movements in space, and in doing so we are developing the inspection, technology, surveillance and coordination technologies among the satellites. This is a serious technology that has yet to mature which is why we still don't use it on a routine basis.

There is another worthwhile thing I should remark on, something we sponsorship: the Space IL Group that is representing Israel in the Google "Lunar X Prize" competition. This group is attempting to build a nano-satellite that will reach the moon. Something like this has never been done before. Beyond the fact that the Technion is sponsoring their work, the university is also providing them with technological guidance. It isn't clear if it will ever be active, but it would be nice if a small Israeli satellite were successful in getting to the moon and sending pictures. We will have a picture of the Israeli flag on the moon".
What notable collaborations do you have with the defense industries in space?
"Geographically, we are close to the RAFAEL company, with whom we have continuing projects. For example, we are currently building a satellite named Venus. RAFAEL is building for the first time electric motors for the satellite. This type of motor has never been used in Israel. All of the technology centers that for the most part control the motors of the satellites on route are being built by us with RAFAEL and the aircraft industries.

We have another project with RAFAEL in the field of laser communication. Generally, satellites communicate with each other via radio and our project in collaboration deals with developing a small enough laser system, one that can go on a nano-satellite and can pass information from one satellite to another via laser.

This has great potential because the bandwidth is much greater and much more information can be passed with a laser beam. We are now in the final stages of building a ground system and we want to do a ground trial between two of these systems communicating with one another. One day maybe this will be a functional system that we can put on a satellite.

It is necessary to say that our relationship with the industries has always been and remains tight. Beyond the work on propulsion and collaboration with RAFAEL that I mentioned, in the field of optics we are currently collaborating with El-Op, for example, in the field of remote sensing, specifically with regards to photography of the earth from space. At the end of the month there will be an international conference on remote sensing for agriculture, part of which is done from space. The idea is that with the help of satellite photos, we can let farmers know about spots with large water leaks, lack of irrigation or disease".

Do you have contact with foreign officials in the field of Space research?

"Space is a difficult field because of military issues. It isn't simple to collaborate with foreign industries because we are generally talking about government industries with security or other orientations. That isn't to say that we don't have the motivation, we would be very happy to further develop international connections and we do this wherever possible. For example, we collaborated on the Galileo program: a large European program whose goal is the creation of a satellite infrastructure for ground positioning, just like GPS. GPS is the American system. Israel is a participating member in this consortium, of which our institute had a small portion, for example in planning satellite routes, with very precise control over the route and more.

One of out goals, clearly, is to greaten the collaboration. We are attractive as a place for training for people from overseas, but with regards to legitimate collaborations, we have what to improve. We are working on it".
Compared to other countries, where does Israel find itself in the field of Space research?
"In terms of ability in relation to size, Israel would be in first place. Nobody launches satellites with higher performance like we do. Israel's ability to launch is limited. Our need to have westward launches, that is to say against the rotation of the earth, works against us, and dictates very clear size and weight constraints for satellites.

Even with these constraints, I think Israel's space capabilities are amazing, really unprecedented. Israel's satellites weigh several hundred kilograms, and in this sense we have no competitors.

On the other hand, make no mistake: size matters. We don't have the capabilities that the world powers have with regards to size and frequency of launch. We don't have the ability to compete with the world's space giants like the ESA or even with the Chinese. But when it comes to maximum performance despite size, I think we are very good.

In general, the mere fact that we have launch capabilities is impressive because if you look at history, the space industry was grown by world powers that had intercontinental missiles. This was the basis upon which began the capability to launch into space. The number of countries in the world that can even get to Space independently is rather small. In this respect we have much to be proud of".
Where, then, do we have room to improve in the field of Space research?
"If it were possible to improve launch capabilities and there are efforts in that direction, that is always good. However bigger you can go, the better you can achieve higher performance, but Israel has never gone in that direction. Instead, Israel decided to go with being clever. I'll demonstrate: in optics, the size of the telescope determines your ability to see, but our optics laboratories are working on all kinds of clever things.

One of the ideas we are tossing around is a telescope that can be spread out in Space. You send it to space all folded up and then you open it in Space. This is not something we invented, rather it is something that is talked about a lot in the world. If we can put into practice this kind of technology, we are talking about a breakthrough, because that means that we aren't limited in the size of the telescope. Despite this, we still are limited by weight and this is also a challenge: building the telescope from light materials, but stable from both mechanical and thermal perspectives. There is no limit to how much you can improve in Space".

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Benny and the Jets

By Amanda Jaffe-Katz

“The result is a device that gives you more mileage with less fuel”

Prof. Benveniste (Benny) Natan of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering is improving rocket or ramjet propulsion performance with a jelly-like substance, based on gasoline. “Gel fuel is a liquid fuel to which you add a gelling agent, and you get something that looks like the Jell-O in your kitchen,” he explains. The addition of metal particles to the gel - analogous to the fruit segments added to Jell-O - leads to much better performance than regular fuel. “We’ve calculated that it’s feasible for a ramjet air-breathing engine, using gel and metal particles, to cover large distances.”

"I address the safety of gel propellants, as well as performance issues,” says Natan. “If the fuel storage tank is hit, then the fuel won’t leak because the gel forms a crust and keeps it in place. Even if it does leak, it’s at a reduced rate - so it’s a safer fuel.”

“With the gel alone, you just get the advantage of safety. For performance, you need the metal particles,” he says. Boron and aluminum are the metals of choice. “You get much more from the metals than from the regular hydrocarbon; the problem is that they sink down in a liquid fuel. But with gel, there is no sedimentation. They stay in place, like the banana stays in Jell-O.”

This, Natan maintains, is a unique solution. “It’s important from every aspect, and there is simply no additional damage to the environment. If you compare with regular hydrocarbon,” Natan explains, “the particles can give you 30 to 40 percent more energy per unit mass when they burn, and sometimes three times more per unit volume. This means you get a more compact motor and save space, and thus reduce the aerodynamic drag. The result is a device that gives you more mileage with less fuel.”

Prof. Benny Natan develops a gel fuel, which is
hydrocarbon plus metal particles, to achieve superior
performance in rocket or ramjet propulsion applications

Monday, February 7, 2011

Israeli Flag on the Moon

"This meeting is yet another landmark in the continuing ASRI support of the SpaceIL ambitious dream to put an Israeli flag on the moon."

Team Space IL
Team SpaceIL - aiming to put an Israeli flag on the moon by the end of 2012

Team Space IL is a nonprofit organization and the only Israeli group competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE. The goal of the team is to make an important contribution to Israel's space program and to promote scientific education among Israeli youth by creating interest in science and space. The team hopes to donate profits, if earned, to educational purposes.

The team was established by Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, and has received encouragement from the Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency and sparked interest within industrial and academic circles such as the Israeli Aerospace Industry, Elbit Systems, Aeronautics, Plasan, as well as the Asher Space Research Institute at the Technion (ASRI), Tel-Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the Ramon Foundation, the Israeli Nano-Satellite Association and others.

The group is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “put the Israeli flag on the moon.”  They aim to “build a small space robot that will make the long journey from the earth to the moon” with an additional goal of promoting technological education in Israel.

The trio, all engineers and computer programmers, aims to send a small box the size of a Coca-Cola bottle into space.  The box – which will hold the robot – will be put on a commercial launcher which will be sent into orbit.  At that point, the goal will be to pilot the capsule to the moon.  According to Bash, the majority of the space will be taken up by the gas tank, not the robot itself, which is only supposed to last one or two months at the maximum.

Winetraub says that in 2012, people should look at the moon with a high-powered telescope because there will be an Israeli flag flying on the surface.

Present at the meeting were ASRI Head Prof. Ehud Behar, Prof. Pini Gurfil, Dr. Alex Kapulkin, and PhD candidate Igal Kronhaus as well as Mr. Nehemia Miller and Dr. David Mishne from Rafael.

"Together, ASRI and our Rafael collaborators, are offering the knowledge and skills of the nation's best experts in orbit planning, propulsion, and creative space research to this exciting young team," said ASRI Director Prof. Ehud Behar, "I believe the combination of their enthusiasm and the professional assistance from Israel's world renown space industry and from us might eventually make their dream come true."

Norman R. Augustine at ASRI

Prof. Norman R. Augustine

"On behalf of ASRI and the Technion, I must say we were honored to host Prof. Augustine, who has been one of the most influential figures in the U.S. aerospace industry for the past few decades"

ASRI Head Prof. Ehud Behar.

Norman Augustine
Prof. Norman R. Augustine
On the 1st February, 2011, one of America's great players in space research and a keen promoter of raising the standards of national education Prof. Norman R. Augustine toured some of the exciting projects happening at the Technion Asher Space Research Institute. During his visit, Augustine met with Prof. Ehud Behar, Head of ASRI; Prof. Pini Gurfil, Head of the Distributed Space Systems Laboratory; Distinguished Prof. Daniel Weihs, Head of the Technion Autonomous Systems Program, Prof. Alon Gany, Head of the Fine Rocket Propulsion Center. Augustine had attended the The 6th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference and was accompanied by Assaf Agmon - Director of the Fisher Institute.

Prof. Augustine retired as chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin and was recently chair of a committee responsible for dramatically changing the priorities of the U.S. human space flight program.

"Particularly on the occasion of the space conference commemorating Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut, it made for a unique experience to hear from the pioneers of human space flight about the dilemmas associated with flying humans to space in the evolving era of autonomous robotics," says ASRI Head Prof. Ehud Behar. "Moreover, it was gratifying to receive the moral reinforcements from a distinguished business man on the importance of university education and academic excellence in science and technology, which is  exactly what we at Technion are striving to achieve.

How did Augustine find the experience of ASRI? His answer is succinct: "I can't think of a better way to have spent the day." 

 The Distributed Space Systems Laboratory

With Prof. Alon Gany,,,
... at the Fine Rocket Propulsion Center.

Technion Researchers Develop Revolutionary Electric Rocket Engine for Small Satellites

"CAMILA" – the revolutionary Hall thruster developed by the Asher Space Research Institute at the Technion.
Researchers from the Technion’s Asher Space Research Institute have developed a revolutionary electric rocket engine for small satellites called “CAMILA” (Co-axial Magneto-Isolated Longitudinal Anode). This engine belongs to a group called Hall thrusters, which are increasingly being used in satellites. The Technion has registered a patent on this development, which has already been presented at two international conferences and has aroused great interest. The engine’s working principle is based on ionizing (extracting electrons from atoms) of fuel (xenon gas) and accelerating it in electric and magnetic fields towards the exhaust.
The Technion’s Asher Space Research Institute has established a special laboratory for electric propulsion, which deals with developing these engines.
Dr. Alexander Kapulkin of the Asher Space Research Institute invented the innovative engine. Dr. Kapulkin was a Ph D-student of Prof. Alexei Morozov from the Atomic Energy Institute in Moscow, who was one of the developing fathers of the electric rocket engine in the world. Dr. Kapulkin is the former head of the Physics and Engineering Laboratory and professor in the Aerospace Engineering Faculty at the University of Dnipropetrovsk in the Ukraine. He repatriated to Israel in 1999 and joined the Technion in 2000 as a senior researcher.
The researchers explain that in a regular rocket engine (chemical fuel engine) gas exhaust speed does not exceed 4-5 kilometers per second, while the speed range of gas exhaust in an electric rocket engine is greater. This speed depends on the satellite mission and there is an “optimal exhaust gas speed.” Today, the optimal speed of the electric rocket engine in most satellites is some 20 kilometers per second. The resulting high speed in these engines enables decreasing the amount of fuel needed to carry out space missions and therefore the satellite mass, and eventually to reduce launch cost. Most satellites launched today are small satellites which require for their operation a small electric rocket engine with a low supply like the ones developed at the Technion.
In the engine developed at the Technion, there are three special changes that do not exist in other Hall thrusters:
  1. The anode configuration is changed significantly. With the regular Hall thruster, the anode work area is perpendicular to the engine axis. In the CAMILA, it is parallel.
  2. Fuel supply (xenon gas) is not carried directly through the anode but through a special gas distributor which is isolated from contact with the anode.
  3. In Hall thrusters existing today, the magnetic field is closer to the radial form (perpendicular to the engine axis) but in CAMILA the magnetic field has a special, much more complex configuration. In the area of ion acceleration (engine exit) the magnetic field is radial and on the other side, which is within the anode (ionization area) – the magnetic field is parallel to the engine axis.
These significant changes prevent ion loss into the engine walls, thus increasing engine efficiency.
Because of the changes made to the Hall thruster by the Technion researchers, fuel consumption is less and this enables more efficient use of the Hall thrusters in satellites. The Hall thruster developed at the Technion is intended, first and foremost, for the Israeli satellite industry.

February 2011 @IsraelSpace

Just another week at ASRI... click on the links to read more!


Team Space IL
The Google space race - who will put the 3rd flag on the moon?

Yonatan Weintraub (SpaceIL), Ehud Behar (ASRI), Ran Qedar (IAI)

Norman R. Augustine
 Prof. Pini Gurfil, Norman R. Augustine - former CEO of Lockheed Martin , Asaf Agmon - Director of the Fisher Institute. 

Space research, cosmos, moon exploration... What's Next?

Q&A with ASRI Head Prof. Ehud Behar

Prof. Ehud Behar, Technion Faculty of Physics and Head of ASRI

"When you can't be bigger you need to be better. Israel has been a world leader in space research."

By Georgina Johnson

Q: In broad terms, how do you see the future of science and technology in space?

Opportunities for science and technology in space are unlimited.

Space technology promotes the well being of societies all over the world first and foremost through satellite communication services.

However, space applications are much more diverse and include weather and environmental monitoring, resource and crisis management, as well as the provision of safety and security of the peace seeking countries.

Most interesting for me personally though are the opportunities for science and exploration.  Be it the landing on or flying by solar system objects (including the sun itself), or the space-borne observatories exploring the most extreme objects of the universe such as black holes and supernovae, the observations of our universe at its infancy, or the search for other forms of life in the solar system or elsewhere, the surprises of the universe easily exceed any expectation.

Q: How much of space research is oriented towards solving scientific mysteries and how much is commercial?

I know it is hard to accept in today's commercial world, but our primary drive is scientific and technological curiosity. The commercial potential is there and is welcome, but it is not the driver. On the other hand, space science is extremely challenging and it is well known that when scientists undertake the task of solving hard problems good things happen. In many cases the spin offs from space research are totally unexpected. NASA publishes a whole book every year about the spin offs from its research efforts.  I even heard the claim that the development of disposable diapers is due to NASA's astronaut program.

Q: What is Israel’s role and advantage in the future of space research?

Israel has a tremendously admirable space heritage and record and not only when considering its small size compared to the big space agencies such as NASA and ESA.

When you can't be bigger you need to be better and Israel has been a world leader in space (including astrophysics) research.

In terms of citations per paper, which is one academic measure for quality, Israel ranks third in the world in space research right behind Canada and the U.S.

Q: What gives Technion scientists and students an advantage in terms of pioneering the unknown frontiers?
The Technion as Israel's leading technical university attracts the best young minds in the country, which is key to the success of any university or high-tech institute.

In space sciences, the Technion is the only university with a space research institute per se and is one of a few distinguished universities in the world that have launched its own satellite.

Despite all the turmoil of the higher education system in Israel, the Technion has (miraculously?) managed to maintain a reasonable level of funding for infrastructure and modern laboratories that allow us to carry out cutting-edge fundamental research.

The unusually high quality of the Israeli industry and our ongoing collaborate with them is also key to our continued success.

Q: Will an advantage in space decide the fate of a nation in the future?

I think more generally, first and foremost, the advantages we will have in education and technology will decide the fate of our nation in the future, just as it has secured our place among the leading modern nations in the past 62 years.  This goes back to the first question where we said that it is the almost unlimited opportunities in space that attract curious, dreaming young individuals for which even the sky is not the limit. 

As long as we encourage them to keep on dreaming and allocate them the resources to pursue their interests I think our future will remain bright. Indeed, space research is one of the forerunners and engines of modern technology. It is obviously also a cornerstone in the national security of those countries that have space capabilities as Israel does, which is probably what your question is implying.

Q: What is your vision and dream for ASRI in the next decade?

My immediate aim is to expand the activities of ASRI and bring in more space-related disciplines into our institute.

My vision is to create a new synergy between science and technology in which the satellite builders work in tandem with the space consumers, such as the earth monitoring environmentalists and astrophysicists. This will be accomplished by both bringing in members of other departments into our institute, but also by establishing new collaborations with laboratories around the world.

We already have many successful programs running at ASRI. We have a laboratory for satellite electrical thrusters in which the Technion is developing its own thruster, but the laboratory is also testing thrusters for the industry. We have a unique laboratory for distributed space systems, i.e., missions that involve more than one satellite. We have an ongoing ground experiment for satellite laser communications running.  We are building the Technological Mission Center for the Israeli-French Venus satellite to be launched soon and which will monitor vegetation on Earth at high resolution. Many of our activities are carried out in close collaboration with the Israeli industry and mostly with RAFAEL.

My goal is to establish new laboratories and broaden the participation of Technion researchers as well as industrial partners in our activities. Some of the directions I am exploring are: An optics laboratory in collaboration with the Physics department to invent novel space telescopes and more generally to develop instrumentation for space observations, the promotion of research and methods for satellite remote sensing (the science mission of the Venus satellite) in collaboration with the Civil Engineering department. I am looking for ways to kick-start a research program in planetary science, which is virtually non-existent at the Technion as of today, but is an inherent part of most leading space research institutes.

You may very well know that the Technion satellite Gurwin-Techsat has recently reached the critical point in which its batteries can no longer sustain its nominal activities. This was not unexpected and in fact Gurwin-Techsat, as far as I know, holds the world record for the longest operating university-scale satellite, more than 12 years. We at ASRI are already thinking of the next Technion space mission, which the next grand challenge of our institute.

Israel's student satellite completes its mission.

ASRI's Gurwin-TechSat surpassed all expectations in orbit.

The Gurwin-TechSat satellite was designed, built, and operated by the Technion's Asher Space Research Institute (ASRI).

The principal tasks of its mission were the implementation of a few on-board scientific and technological experiments and the provision of store-and-forward services to the worldwide radio amateur community.

Gurwin-Techsat remained operational since its launch on July 10 1998 for more than 11 years, which is the world record for the longest university satellite mission.

Last month, and not unexpectedly, the steadily deteriorating satellite solar panels have reached the point where they can no longer support the nominal performance of the satellite systems.

We therefore announce the remarkably successful Gurwin-TechSat mission complete.

-ASRI, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.