NASA signs deal to launch Israel’s first space telescope mission

NASA today announced that it has agreed to provide the launch opportunity for Israel’s first space telescope, dubbed the Ultraviolet Transient Astronomy Satellite (ULTRASAT), designed to make wide-field ultraviolet observations from geosynchronous orbit.

Led by the Israel Space Agency and Weizmann Institute of Science, ULTRASAT is planned for launch into geostationary orbit around Earth in early 2026. In addition to providing the launch service, NASA will also participate in the mission’s science program.

The press release, both from NASA and from Weizmann, was remarkably vague about how NASA will provide that launch capability. The only orbital rocket NASA has is SLS. Will ULTRASAT launch as a secondary payload on a future Artemis launch? Or will NASA buy launch services from another rocket company? The press releases did not say.

Regardless, this deal means that American taxpayers have agreed to foot the launch cost of this Israeli space telescope, in exchange for obtaining telescope time for American astronomers. Interestingly, the press releases also provided no information about how much that launch cost would be.

There has long been a need for a dedicated new ultraviolet space telescope, so this deal could be a good one for American astronomers and a worthwhile use of some of NASA’s budget. It just seems inappropriate for NASA to keep the details so secret.