By Erin Viner
The launch will be held in early 2026, as part of a newly signed partnership between United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Israel’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology.
Israel’s first space telescope is called the Ultraviolet Transient Astronomy Satellite (ULTRASAT) will be sent into high-Earth orbit, where it will “revolutionize research on the universe,” said a government statement from Jerusalem.
ULTRASAT is expected to vastly improve ability of scientists to detect and analyze transient events in the universe, such as neutron star mergers and supernova explosions.
According to terms of the partnership, the ISA will deliver the completed observatory to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while NASA will provide the Flight Payload Adapter and elements for the launch. The observatory will ultimately be positioned in a Geostationary Orbit.
The Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Missiles (MBT) Space Division is building the satellite. MBT will also oversee incorporation of the telescope, built by Elbit Systems Electro-Optics (ELOP), as well as the mission in space.
Germany’s Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) will make the telescope’s camera, featuring specialized detectors that are being developed by Israel’s Tower Semiconductor company.
“ULTRASAT’s unprecedented field of view of 204 square degrees represents a 100-fold leap in the extra-galactic volume accessible to scientists for the discovery of transient sources, compared to observatories on Earth,” said the statement, adding that the Israeli telescope is capable of measuring ultraviolet light that cannot be gauged from Earth, to provide the scientific community with real-time alerts on transient events.
Underscoring that, “the combination of these unique capabilities will allow scientists to observe the universe as never before, shedding light on some basic questions, such as the origin of heavy elements in nature and the impact of giant black holes on their environments,” the statement said ULTRASAT “will enhance research on a wide variety of astronomical subjects, including supernovae, variable and flare stars, active galaxies, the source of gravitational waves and accretion of stars by massive back holes.”.
“Groundbreaking science calls for cutting-edge technology. Our requirements from ULTRASAT, such as a wide field of view, advanced ultraviolet sensitivity and real-time data control and transfer are at the forefront of technological developments,” said ISA Director Uri Oron, emphasizing that “Israel’s space industry can deliver these capabilities.” Oron expressed pride in his agency’s cooperation with NASA, calling it “a direct example of the strong partnership between the agencies, and of the Israeli space industry’s technological effort involved in the development of the telescope.”
Also expressing gratification in the alliance with Israel, NASA Headquarters Astrophysics Division Director Dr. Mark Clampin described the mission as “an international effort that will help us better understand the mysteries of the hot, transient universe. ULTRASAT will give the global science community another important capability for making new observations in the nascent field of Time Domain and Multi-Messenger astrophysics programs.”
ULTRASAT’s head researcher Professor Eli Waxman, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, commented, “This is a breakthrough project that places Israel at the forefront of global research.”
The mission’s high scientific profile will strengthen Israel’s space industry and Israel’s status in the international arena thanks to the partnerships that the mission cements with leading agencies and industries in the field.
“Leading international bodies such as NASA and the DESY research institute have joined this Israeli-led project as partners, having recognized its scientific significance. They are investing considerable resources in the construction and launch of the satellite to become active participants in this mission with access to its scientific products. It’s a science-driven partnership,” said Prof. Waxman.
Beyond scientific discoveries, ULTRASAT will demonstrate how small and relatively affordable satellites (approximately $90 million, for the spacecraft and instrument) can facilitate the expansion of future Israeli space initiatives.