After launching over a dozen communications and reconnaissance satellites into space in part for military purposes, Israel is now working on a satellite for a very different purpose – monitoring crops. The VENµS (Vegetation and Environment Monitoring on a New Micro-Satellite) is a cooperation between Israel and France on a satellite using a superspectral sensor ( a sensor that can pick up images across wavelengths that are outside the visible range of the human eye), to monitor agricultural crops.
The satellite is ultra-lightweight and, alongside communications satellite Amos 6, will be one of two Israeli civilian satellites to be launched into space in 2015.
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Israel specializes in developing lightweight satellites, due to its geographic location. Most countries that launch satellite into space, launch them to the east, in accordance with the Earth’s rotation. However, for security reasons, Israel must launch its space rockets to the west, which means the satellites have to be lighter in order for the launch to succeed. In a world where every pound of satellite material costs $9,900 to launch, making lighter satellites is a great advantage. That is one of the reasons why many countries work in cooperation with Israel when building satellites.
In fact, while the French space agency CNES is providing the camera for the satellite, the Israeli Space Agency (ISA) is responsible for the spacecraft, the launcher interface and for the satellite control center.
According to CNES, the satellite’s scientific objective is the provision of data for scientific studies dealing with the monitoring, analysis, and modeling of land surface functioning under the influences of environmental factors as well as human activities. To fulfill this objective, VENµS will acquire high resolution and superspectral images of predefined sites of interest all around the world every two days.
The plans for VENµS go as far back as 2005 and the launch was originally scheduled for 2008. However, due to delays in the suprtspectral camera, the launch was postponed to next year. The satellite will be the first fully commercial spacecraft launched by Israel, as the Amos satellite series is also used for military purposes.