NASA will launch Israel’s first space telescope – the Ultraviolet Transient Astronomy Satellite, or ULTRASAT – into high-Earth orbit in early 2026, as part of a newly signed partnership between United States’ NASA and Israel’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology.
The observatory will eventually reside in a Geostationary Orbit.
ULTRASAT, a premier project of the Israel Space Agency in the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science, is expected to revolutionize scientists’ ability to detect and analyze transient events in the universe, such as neutron star mergers and supernova explosions.
According to the agreement, NASA will provide all launch-related responsibilities for ULTRASAT once ISA deliver it to the Kennedy Space Center, and will partner in the ULTRASAT Science program.
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.
Moreover, ULTRASAT will measure ultraviolet light that cannot be measured from Earth, and provide the scientific community with real-time alerts on transient events.
The combination of these unique capabilities will allow scientists to observe the universe as never before, shedding light on basic questions such as the origin of heavy elements in nature and the impact of giant black holes on their environments.
It will enhance research on astronomical subjects including supernovae, variable and flare stars, active galaxies, the source of gravitational waves and accretion of stars by massive back holes.
The Israel Aerospace Industries’ MBT Space Division is building the satellite and will oversee the mission in space, as well as the incorporation of the telescope, built by Elbit Systems Electro-Optics. DESY of Germany is building the telescope’s camera, which features specialized detectors developed for the mission by Tower Semiconductor.
“This is a breakthrough project that places Israel at the forefront of global research,” said Prof. Eli Waxman, an astrophysicist at the Weizmann Institute of Science and ULTRASAT’s head researcher.
“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.”
NASA Headquarters Astrophysics Division Director Mark Clampin added, “We are proud to join this partnership, 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.”