Avi Blasberger, a graduate of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was recently appointed Head of the Israel Space Agency. In this capacity, he visited Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and was impressed with its development in the field of space exploration.
For more than thirty years, Avi Blasberger has been seeing stars. His natural curiosity and academic background helped him advance his plans and realize his aspirations and, as such, his new role as Head of the Israel Space Agency of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space fits him like a lens fits a telescope.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev represents one of the significant milestones in his life. It is here that it all began. Here he studied for a bachelor's and a master's degree in mechanical engineering. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in astrophysics.
Avi recently came on an official visit to his alma mater. In this role he toured University laboratories and met with researchers and senior officials. "Our ambassador" in the Israel Space Agency felt right at home in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he met with Dr. David Zarrouk, a department member and head of the Bioinspired and Medical Robotics Laboratory, who presented some of his technological innovations.
After meetings with BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi and Vice-President and Dean of Research and Development, Prof. Dan Blumberg, he visited the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) and the Earth and Planetary Image Facility (EPIF). His extensive tour included meetings with other senior researchers, including Prof. Adrian Stern from the Unit of Electro-Optical Engineering, Prof. Shlomi Arnon from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dr. Daniel Choukron from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Regarding BGU's raw potential in the field of space exploration, he says: "The development of the BGUSaT satellite at the University will assist in developing more satellites and other applications, such as remote-sensing and component miniaturization, for use in space."
His fascinating journey in the fields of space and remote-sensing began when Blasberger started working at El-Op (which was later purchased by Elbit), where he took part in the development of satellite observation cameras. "I started as a development engineer and rose to the position of manager of the visual intelligence unit (formerly Elbit Electro-Optics), which is responsible for all space activities, aerial photography and hyperspectral imaging," he says.
Later, Avi managed the areas of space, operations and engineering at OIP – a subsidiary of Elbit, based in Belgium. Upon returning to Israel he managed Elbit Security Systems in Sderot. He retired from the company at the end of 2013.
He has been familiar with the Israel Space Agency since its inception. Its activities in Israel and abroad are well known to him. He even knows about the deployment of Israel's satellites, and was involved in the decision-making process prior to the development of the cameras and satellites manufactured in Israel. He is proud of the development of the “Ofek 3" satellite and of the fact that Israel is today one of the world's most advanced countries when it comes to the development of compact satellites, whose effectiveness is surprising in terms of their weight-performance ratio.
In light of the explosion of “Amos 6," Blasberger is currently busy with the special committee recently established by Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Ofir Akunis, and chaired by the Director of the Ministry, Peretz Vazan, which aims to examine the future of Israel's civilian space program, in particular in the field of satellite communications.
What are the Space Agency's flagship projects in the international arena?
"'Venus' – a satellite we are building in Israel in cooperation with Centre National D'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency, will soon be launched. This is the first Israeli satellite for civilian-environmental use. It will allow precise monitoring of land, vegetation, forestry and agriculture, the quality of bodies of water and environmental preservation. Hundreds of scientists will be able to make use of the data generated from it. The satellite will enable us to prove for the first time the effectiveness of the innovative electric propulsion system (manufactured by Rafael) for maintaining a satellite in orbit.
"An additional project is the 'Peace' satellite, in collaboration with Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), the Italian Space Agency. This satellite will demonstrate hyperspectral sensing technologies – observations in the signature fields rather than visible light. It will be used to detect and monitor minerals, for precision agriculture, for the monitoring of water resources and of infections. It will also have many civilian research and commercial uses. The objective is to move from the research stage to the commercial stage and that commercial companies will develop applications based on information gathered from this satellite.
"We are also partners in the Italian Space Agency's JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) project in collaboration with the European Space Agency, whose purpose is to promote a scientific voyage to Jupiter.
"A year ago we signed a collaboration agreement with NASA, which has already borne fruit. Recently, we agreed on sending Israeli researchers for training and integration in NASA's projects."
Speaking of NASA, when do you think a second Israeli astronaut will launch into space?
"There is talk about it all the time. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a visit here about a year ago that when flights to Mars begin, representatives from many countries will participate. We are very interested in taking part in the journey to Mars and contributing our knowledge."
What about start-ups in the field of space?
"We currently support ten start-ups that are developing ideas for new ventures to be launched into space, in the belief that, in the future, they will be integrated into the ecosystem."
How can space be made accessible to the public?
"Every year at the end of January we hold Israeli Space Week – dozens of fun activities throughout the country that are open to the general public, showcasing achievements in space research, which evoke curiosity and a desire to deepen knowledge of the field. We also collaborate with the Ministry of Education in an attempt to expand school curricula on the subject of space."
Quickly moving to another question, it was recently reported that “a planet similar to earth" has been discovered. What is the significance of this discovery?
"In recent years many planets have been discovered, some with conditions similar to those found on Earth. This raises the probability of the existence of life beyond our planet."
Want to know more? Check out the Israel Space Agency website