Israel signs the Artemis Accords to become a space power
Israel signed the Artemis Accords, a document outlining the rules for space exploration, including mutual cooperation. Israel thus became the latest member of what some call the Artemis Alliance, which includes Australia, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.
Israel’s first high-profile space mission was the 2019 Beresheet probe, an attempt to land on the surface of the moon. The mission was undertaken by a private group called SpaceIL which participated in the Google Lunar XPrize. The Beresheet mission failed, crashing into the lunar surface.
Undaunted, SpaceIL will attempt a second Beresheet mission, this time consisting of an orbiter and two landers. Another signatory to the Artemis Accords, the United Arab Emirates, is taking part in the mission by providing instruments for the landers, making it the first Arab-Israeli space voyage in history. Beresheet 2 will be an example of how Israel and its former enemies are now forging alliances for their mutual benefit. The new moon landing attempt is scheduled for 2024.
Meanwhile, an Israeli startup called Helios has signed a deal with a Germany-based company called OHB SE to provide a technology demonstrator to extract oxygen and metals from lunar soil on the Lunar Surface Access Service (LSAS) lander. The idea is to develop the ability of future lunar explorers to live off the land rather than having materials shipped from Earth at great expense. Israeli technology melts lunar soil and extracts oxygen and other materials through electrolysis. The mission is scheduled for 2025.
By signing the Artemis Accords, Israel will create opportunities for Israeli companies to participate in the US moon return program. An Israeli company called Stemrad has developed an anti-radiation vest called AstroRad, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, which has already been tested on the International Space Station (ISS) and is expected to fly on the Artemis 1 mission. The vest will help protect future deep space radiation astronauts.
Additionally, an Israeli astronaut will likely fly on an Artemis mission to the moon at some point. NASA once transported an Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who perished during the ill-fated Columbia STS-107 mission. Another Israeli, former fighter pilot and entrepreneur, Eytan Stibbe, is scheduled to visit the International Space Station in March 2022 on the private Axiom-1 flight. He will perform a number of experiments using Israeli technology during his time in the orbiting space laboratory.
The day an Israeli astronaut walks on the moon, possibly accompanied by an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates, will be a singular event in the history not only of the Middle East but of the world. The event would mark the rise of Israel as a space power.
Why does Israel, which has problems closer to home, want to become a space power? Israel’s rise as a technological power presents part of the answer.
Israel’s participation in the Artemis program, in the short term, will provide lucrative contracts for that country’s burgeoning technology hub. In the long run, access to the moon, as part of the Artemis Alliance, will net Israel a share of the world’s resources, which would also benefit the country’s tech manufacturing sector.
Israel will also gain what some call soft political power by being part of Artemis. Israel is often talked about in international circles only in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. As part of the Artemis Alliance, Israel will increasingly be seen as a space power, a country that derives much of its strength and vitality from space activities. Other countries will discover the advantage of having Israel as a friendly trading partner.
High technology will be the basis of Israel’s relations with other countries, especially Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, whose interests are also defined by a desire to create a commercial technology sector. Indeed, Israel’s relationship with the other countries that make up the Abraham Accords, the Trump-era accord that brought about peace between Israel and a number of Gulf Arab states, will be defined by a paraphrase an old slogan from the 60s: Make money, not war. It’s quite a beautiful thing.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of the space exploration studies “Why is it so difficult to return to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond” and “Why Is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.