As far as Professor Teodoro Valente is concerned, there’s no question that collaboration in space exploration builds bridges on Earth.
“We are dealing with ‘space diplomacy,’” said Valente, the president of the Italian Space Agency. “The scientific activities which are running on the International Space Station, that’s an environment in which no boundaries exist.
“We have astronauts coming from all different countries, and countries on different technological levels. Or, due to their geopolitical situation, they do not collaborate. So, space can be a bridge using space diplomacy or scientific activities which are outlined in space frameworks,” he asserted.
Valente was in Israel for the 19th annual Haim Ramon International Space Conference in Herzliya on Wednesday.
“Space exploration is very important for people’s imagination. We’re talking about the possibility of understanding, for example, what is outside the Earth, what is the origin of the universe. We’re talking about the possibility of coming back to the moon, we’re talking about the possibility of exploring Mars. All these things are important for people’s imagination,” he said.
Valente revealed that the Italian Space Agency may join Israel’s Beresheet 2 mission to the moon. “We started just today to discuss possible cooperation. We decided to set up a joint working group for the next Beresheet 2 to better understand how it will be possible and in which framework. The relationship is very good,” he said.
The original Beresheet mission was Israel’s first attempt at a lunar landing. The demonstrator of a small robotic lunar lander and lunar probe was launched in February 2019 and carried out by the private Israeli company SpaceIL in collaboration with the state-owned Israel Space Agency. A technical glitch in one of Beresheet’s components triggered a chain of events that caused the main engine of the spacecraft to malfunction, sending it crashing into the lunar surface in April 2019.
Beresheet 2 is a private mission intended to reach the Moon in 2025. As the spacecraft reaches the Moon, it will split in three: the mothership (orbiter) and two landers that will reach different locations on the Moon. The orbiter will orbit the Moon on a multi-year mission.
The collaboration between Italy and Israel in space activities has a rich history, dating back to 2005 when the relationship between the Italian Space Agency and the Israel Space Agency was launched.
The first collaboration was in 2010—the Spaceborne Hyperspectral Applicative Land and Ocean Mission (SHALOM), which is expected to be operational in 2025. Hyperspectral satellites are designed to capture and collect information across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum. They can be used for environmental and agricultural monitoring, mineral exploration, urban planning and disaster response and management.
Another collaboration known as CubeSat involves launching several mini-satellites into space where miniature laboratories can conduct chemical and biological experiments in weightlessness. The goal is to develop drugs that cannot be created in Earth’s gravity. The ninth satellite was launched in August and the experiments are being overseen by Israeli and Italian researchers.
Then there’s the “Juice Mission,” formally called the JUpiter ICy rings Explorer Mission. The Juice spacecraft, launched in April 2023, will explore three of Jupiter’s icy moons, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, and become the first spacecraft to orbit a moon other than Earth’s.
Juice is expected to reach Jupiter in July 2031. The orbiter includes Italian equipment, Israeli hardware, and a plaque honoring Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer who discovered Jupiter’s moons. Juice is led by the European Space Agency, but institutions and companies from 23 countries are involved.
Cooperation, Valente explained, helps advance knowledge and creates shared goals as well as jobs. That’s significant because space exploration is too expensive for any single country to undertake on its own.
“Each company is doing its own business. But working together, in collaboration with universities and public research centers, is very important for bilateral relations between Italy and Israel,” he said.