BGU | The Sky is No Limit

Issue 138

The Sky is No Limit

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev leads Israeli academia in aerospace research | Nanosatellites have allowed academic institutions to become significant players in space and encouraged innovation and entrepreneurship | Remote sensing is proving an effective tool for sustainable agriculture, disaster management and more A special issue on space research at BGU

Issue 138 | July-August 2023 | English Edition | November 2023

From the Editor

(Left to right): BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, Israeli entrepreneur and astronaut Eytan Stibbe, and BGU VP for Regional & Industrial Development Prof. Dan Blumberg

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has, in recent years, invested considerable resources in aerospace engineering and more specifically in remote sensing and satellites, with the understanding that the field has far reaching potential. BGU’s space research is led by Prof. Dan Blumberg, the University’s Vice President for Regional and Industrial Development, who was also recently appointed chairman of the Israel Space Agency, Prof. Arnon Karnieli, the founder and head since 1988 of the Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, and Dr. Shimrit Maman, Director of BGU’s Earth and Planetary Image Facility. Pioneering aerospace research in the Israeli academy, BGU signed a long

term cooperation agreement with NASA – the American national space agency – in 1992, under which NASA made advanced laboratory equipment available to University researchers and conducted joint field experiments with them. The first of these experiments took place 30 years ago, in August 1993. The success of this collaboration led to the establishment of the facility for atmospheric particles measurement and space sensors calibration at Sde Boker. In 2005, the Israeli and French space agencies signed an agreement to build, launch, and operate VENμS, Israel’s first scientific observation satellite, which carries out agricultural and ecological research. The satellite was launched in the summer of 2017.

BGU signed a long-term cooperation agreement with NASA in 1992. The first joint field experiment took place 30 years ago, in August 1993.

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Just a few months earlier, with the successful launch of BGUSAT in February 2017, BGU joined a distinguished list of scientific organizations with a presence in space. The BGUSAT nanosatellite, which is the size of a milk carton and weighs only five kilograms, was equipped with cameras capable of detecting various climatic phenomena and a control system that enables selection of the areas to be photographed and studied.

CONTENTS Above and Beyond Prof. Dan Blumberg leads BGU space research Israel Goes to the Moon BGU alum Kfir Damri’s remarkable journey

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A Green Shoot on the Moon? Prof. Simon Barak leads international experiment A New View of the Moon BGU-developed hyperspectral imager to go to the moon


With the successful launch of BGUSAT on February 15, 2017, BGU joined an exclusive and distinguished list of scientific organizations with a presence in space. Nanosatellites have made aerospace activity much cheaper than was the case in the past. This has allowed academic institutions to become significant players in space and encouraged innovation and entrepreneurship among researchers and students. BGU alumnus Kfir Damri, one of the leaders of the SpaceIL project that sent the Beresheet-1 spacecraft to the moon in 2019, is testimony to the spirit of space entrepreneurship at BGU. The sky is not a limit here. This special issue of BGU Magazine tells the stories of these pioneers and others. Enjoy!


Space Entrepreneurs Real world impact of BGU graduates

Black Hole Mysteries Dr. Shira Chapman compares black holes and quantum systems The Brains behind an Experiment in Space Prof. Oren Shriki and Eytan Stibbe collaborate aboard the ISS Aiming for the Stars Dr. Shimrit Maman leads the Earth and Planetary Image Facility Discovering New Worlds through SheSpace One-of-a-kind-program empowers girls in science Long-Distance Sensing Prof. Arnon Karnieli pioneered remote sensing in Israel







Above and Beyond

Prof. Dan Blumberg, BGU’s Vice President for Regional and Industrial Development, added another achievement to his impressive resume with his appointment to the position of Chairperson of the Israel Space Agency in the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology. In this role, Blumberg heads the Agency's advisory committee. The Israel Space Agency initiates, leads and coordinates the country’s civilian aerospace activity. "The State of Israel belongs to a small and prestigious group of countries that have access to space. Just as the State was able to leverage other fields, I have no doubt that aerospace will also translate into economic and social growth," he said after his appointment.

speaks to the success of that sector here.” Israel is also on the verge of sending its first telescope into space, Ultrasat. “Ultrasat’s objective is to provide a wide field of view into deep space and to make observations so at the high resolution telescopes at NASA can then look at events in deep space directly,” said Blumberg. “At the moment, they don’t have that wide field of view. We’re going to act as the information center for other space agencies, so they can direct their satellites at the correct observation points.” "Other countries will absolutely come to rely on Israeli tech in space, just as they rely on some Israeli tech on Earth,” he added. Prof. Blumberg earned his doctorate in planetary geology at the University of Arizona and joined the faculty of BGU in 1996. He specializes in remote sensing, which utilizes observation

Prof. Dan Blumberg, BGU’s Vice President for Regional & Industrial Development, added another achievement to his impressive resume with his appointment as Chairman of the Israel Space Agency.

“Space tech is crucial to Israel's security, prosperity, and global

competitiveness,” he told the Jewish Chronicle recently. “Israelis have a great appetite and curiosity for space, which

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systems installed on satellites and aircraft for an almost infinite number of purposes. It was Blumberg who led the BGU team that developed the BGUSAT nanosatellite in cooperation with Israeli Aerospace Industries (see page 19). He is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics and one of the founders of the Earth and Planetary Image Facility at BGU, which also serves as one of NASA's regional

laboratories. Another of Blumberg’s research interests is using radar systems and hyperspectral systems for environmental and agricultural research. As such, he participated in NASA's testing of different radar systems on the Space Shuttle. Blumberg is the third scientist to take up the mantle of Chair of the Israel Space Agency, following in the footsteps of the late Prof. Yuval

Ne’eman and Prof. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael. Together with the current Director of the Agency, Uri Oron, Blumberg works to promote Israel’s space industry in a variety of domains. And by the way, the previous Director of the Israel Space Agency was Avi Blasberger, another alumnus of Ben-Gurion University.

Prof. Dan Blumberg with NASA astronaut Michael R. Barratt, at the annual Ilan and Assaf Ramon memorial event, 2018

“Israel belongs to a small and prestigious group of countries that have access to space. Just as the state knew how to leverage other issues, I have no doubt that this field will also translate into economic and social growth.”

All about the Israel Space Agency

The Israel Space Agency was established by government decree in 1983 and operates within the framework of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology. The Agency initiates, leads and coordinates civilian space activity in Israel. No realm of space is too obscure: representatives of the Agency recently sat down with members of the Academy of the Hebrew Language to decide on a Hebrew term for "space launch system": marki’a. Language aside, the Israel Space Agency plays a key role in fostering Israel’s aerospace industry, with the

understanding that this industry contributes to the country’s global status, its economy, and its overall resilience. A key focus is expanding Israel’s international aerospace partnerships and collaborations. In addition to extensive cooperation with NASA over the past 30 years, the Israel Space Agency has signed agreements with France, Germany, India, Canada, Russia, Brazil, and the Netherlands. A joint project with Italy, for example, led to the development of communication satellites, and in January 2022, Israel joined Artemis – the US-led manned space program, which aims to land

humans on the moon in 2025. More broadly, the Agency works to position Israel among the leading countries in space exploration and exploitation. It supports both foundational research in academia and entrepreneurial R&D of innovative space technologies. In particular, it has supported the development and construction of satellites for civilian purposes such as precision agriculture, communications, monitoring the environment, and other areas important to the well-being of Israel’s residents.


Kfir Damri at the SpaceIL labs with the Beresheet-1 spacecraft. Photo: SpaceIL

Israel Goes to the Moon Kfir Damri, a graduate of BGU’s Department of Communication Systems Engineering, co-founded SpaceIL, a non-profit that is attempting to land on the moon and encourage science education.

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The Beresheet-1 spacecraft en route to Florida. L-R: Eran Privman, Morris Kahn, Yariv Bash, and Kfir Damri. Photo: SpaceIL

“Three engineers were sitting in a bar” sounds like the beginning of a joke, especially when it continues with “and thinking about landing a spacecraft on the moon”... But that is what actually happened, and what set Kfir Damri, an engineering graduate of BGU, on his remarkable path all the way to the moon. He and his two partners had a dream and made it come true. Years after that meeting, Damri became one of the founders of SpaceIL, which launched the Beresheet-1 mission to land on the moon, and today he is leading the Beresheet-2 mission. The launch date has been set for the summer of 2025. Damri acquired his scientific toolbox at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where he obtained undergraduate and master’s degrees from the Department of Communication Systems Engineering. “I gained a broad perspective through my studies, which also encouraged personal initiative. I matured into the understanding that today’s technologies are not the technologies of tomorrow, so we need to focus on principles, because reality will continue changing,” said Damri. “The story of SpaceIL began in the summer of 2010 when I was completing my master’s degree in communication systems engineering

at Ben-Gurion University. All my friends from Unit 8200 [an elite IDF technology unit] had already begun developing their startups and I was still thinking about mine. I had several ideas that I had begun to explore when I received a Facebook message from Yariv Bash, inviting me to join him in trying for the Google Lunar X-Prize. This daunting and nearly impossible challenge appealed to me, even though I wasn’t yet familiar with the field of space. My children hadn’t been born yet, and I myself was still a kid.”

“When I saw Yariv’s message: ‘Who wants to come to the moon?’ I replied that, if he was serious, I was in. The three of us – Yariv, Jonathan Weintraub and I – met in a pub in Holon, and the rest is history.” “Morris Kahn, who became president of SpaceIL, was the first to offer us financial support and became our biggest donor, along with other serious philanthropists, including the Adelson, Adams, Shusterman, and Sagol families, companies like Mini Circuits and Bezeq, and countless small-scale donors, including children from all over the world who sent us their pocket money. Our strategic partners in the aerospace industry, the Weizmann Institute, the Israel Space Agency, NASA, the Ministry of Education, iCenter and others, were just as important. Our engineering and education volunteers, and of course SpaceIL’s own team of engineers and management, everyone came together to make the dream come true.” The original plan was to complete the project at a cost of eight million dollars and build a five kilogram spacecraft. In practice, Beresheet grew a hundred-fold and the costs increased twelve-fold. This meant restarting the engineering design and fundraising.

SpaceIL is a not-for-profit association established to encourage Israel’s next generation to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by undertaking the incredibly ambitious and extremely challenging project of landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon.


The spacecraft ultimately went through five different designs before the team arrived at a structure that could reach the moon. The construction of the Beresheet spacecraft was, likewise, fraught with many ups and downs; An “emotional roller coaster,” according to Damri, “which oscillated between exciting breakthroughs and milestones, such as signing the launch agreement with SpaceX and a contract with NASA, and a range of engineering, personnel, and financial setbacks.” The actual physical construction of Beresheet-1 finally began six years ago. The launch was set for February 22, 2019. “When launch day finally arrived, I felt like I was getting ready for my wedding all over again. After eight and a half years of preparation, the Falcon-9 spacecraft stood on the launchpad, its engines ready to go. I had a hard time believing that our moment had finally arrived, and we were actually going into space.” The launch was successful, but not perfect, and if anyone was hoping that Beresheet’s journey through space would be smooth sailing, they were disappointed. Early on, while restoring communication with the lander after it was released, the team discovered

a problem with a critical component called the star trackers, special cameras designed to track stars to determine Beresheet’s orientation in relation to the Earth and the moon. But the resourceful SpaceIL team overcame the mishaps and obstacles, starting with reprogramming the star trackers, through difficulties maneuvering, and ending with spontaneous reboots of the computer system and communication issues. The maneuvering challenges, in particular, caused a great deal of apprehension as the team prepared for the most complex maneuver of all, the ‘lunar insertion,’ where Beresheet had to slow itself down relative to the moon, so that it could be captured by the moon’s gravity and enter orbit around it. Any mishaps during this maneuver would have resulted in the loss of the lander to the solar system. “Fortunately, the maneuver was executed flawlessly, and when Alex, the control room manager, announced that we had been ‘captured’ by the moon, I felt myself floating at least a meter above the ground. We did it! We reached the moon! We were overcome with happiness. We made history.” The landing process began a week later, as planned. But, when the IMU2 accelerometer failed, the attempt to

reboot it caused the flight computers to reboot and the engines to shut down as well. “Thanks to the communication provided by NASA, at least we got a magical selfie just before landing,” Damri said. Beresheet then flew directly at the moon and crashed to the ground at a speed of nearly a kilometer per second. “Although we hoped for a soft landing and got a hard landing instead, the reactions we received illustrated that the mission actually achieved its goals,” Damri recalls. His former professors in the Department of Communication Systems Engineering were proud. “Together with the entire State of Israel, we followed Beresheet’s journey with amazement and hope, and were reminded that the road is just as important as the goal. SpaceIL, under the leadership of Kfir and his partners, with its emphasis on education and technology, is an inspiration to us all. We hope that their success continues with Beresheet-2,” said Prof. Chen Avin. Israel is only the seventh country in the world to land on the moon and SpaceIL is the first non-governmental organization to succeed in doing so. When Kfir Damri and his colleagues approach the moon yet again with Beresheet-2, the whole country will hold its breath again.

Unveiling of a model of Beresheet-1 at the residence of Israel’s President, 2015. L-R: Kfir Damri, Jonathan Weintraub, President Reuven Rivlin, Science Minister Ofir Akunis, Eran Privman, and Yariv Bash. Photo: Alon Hadar

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Beresheet-2 Collaborating

on a Soft Landing

The Beresheet-2 mission, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2025, is planned to break several aerospace records, including a double landing on the moon in one mission and the first private venture to land on its far side (to date, only China has succeeded in landing there). Also, the two landers that will be launched from the Beresheet-2 orbiter are set to be the smallest spacecrafts to ever land on the moon – each weighing just 150 kilograms. So far, SpaceIL has fundraised about 85% of the cost of the Beresheet-2 project. The bulk of the funding was received from the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation, the Morris Kahn Foundation, and the Moshal Foundation. The Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology is also supporting the project. Another important step in the development of the Beresheet-2 mission was the signing of a cooperation agreement between SpaceIL and the German Aerospace Center, under which a German-developed navigation algorithm will help the spacecraft land on the moon. Beresheet-2’s mission is planned to last two to five years, during which it will serve as a platform for scientific and educational activities in Israel and around the world. A remote link will allow students from different countries to actively participate in scientific space research. Uri Oron, Director General of the Israel Space Agency, explained, “the Beresheet-2 mission led by SpaceIL is an exceptional example of the growth of the [Israeli] aerospace industry and the integration of private initiatives in humanity's journey to the moon and other celestial bodies.” Beresheet is an inspiring example of how not for-profit collaborations and sharing can succeed even in the prohibitively expensive realm of aerospace exploration, democratizing space and scientific advancement.


Illustration and production by Lunaria One

A Green Shoot on the Moon? Researchers from the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research are collaborating in an experiment testing the feasibility of space agriculture | The experiment will be transported on SpaceIL’s Beresheet-2 moon lander

As part of the Alpha-1 experiment, a small, hermetically sealed chamber will be flown in SpaceIL’s Beresheet-2 spacecraft carrying seeds and plants capable of surviving stress conditions while dormant.

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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is playing a key role in an international experiment known as Aleph-1, whose purpose is to test the feasibility of growing plants on the moon. An international group of researchers in the fields of plant biology and imaging were enlisted for the experiment, and Prof. Simon Barak of the French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research was entrusted with its coordinating. The experiment is led by Lunaria One, an international non-profit consortium of research institutions and public bodies dedicated to proving the feasibility of growing food on the moon. As a joint initiative for the common good, the project involves the combined effort of many organizations around the world, including BGU and leading universities in Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, and Cyprus. BGU’s contribution to the endeavor will be transported to the moon on the Beresheet-2 spacecraft. The mission is planned for 2025, and as part of the experiment, a small, hermetically sealed chamber will

be flown with SpaceIL’s Beresheet-2 spacecraft, carrying seeds and plants capable of surviving stress conditions while they are dormant and dry and able to "wake up" again when watered. The specific types of plants will be selected carefully based on their ability to grow quickly and survive in extreme temperatures. After landing on the moon, the plants’ growth will be monitored from Earth for 72 hours. The challenges of this lunar experiment are significant. The journey through space to the moon will entail extreme temperature changes and once they arrive, the seeds will require a supply of water to germinate. "The chosen experiment has enormous value both for our life here on Earth and for humanity's progress in space exploration," says Shimon Sarid, CEO of SpaceIL. According to Sarid, studying plant growth under extreme conditions can help us respond in the future to issues of food security as the Earth’s climate changes. As for space exploration, “growing plants will help humanity in long-term missions. We are thrilled to be cooperating with Lunaria One."

Prof. Simon Barak, coordinator of Lunaria One’s biological team added: "Earth and its resources are finite. Humanity's future existence depends on reaching the stars." Alongside Prof. Barak, two colleagues from the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research – Prof. Aaron Fait and Dr. Tarin Paz-Kagan – as well as three scientists from Australia and one from South Africa, are members of the research group. What is unique about this experiment is that in addition to this group of experts, the Aleph-1 team will invite citizen scientists and children from around the world to offer solutions to the challenges that arise in this project. In the shorter term, Lunaria One is working with various partners focusing on urban agriculture, as well as the cultivation of food and its transportation to difficult to reach locations (for example, providing emergency supplies to areas affected by natural disasters), so that Earth and its inhabitants also stand to benefit from this lunar mission in the meantime.

BGU’s Prof. Simon Barak is coordinating the international Alpha-1 experiment.


A New View of the Moon BGU-developed Hyperspectral Imager to Go to the Moon with Beresheet-2

Illustration of Beresheet-2. Courtesy of SpaceIL. Full moon taken from International Space Station. Photo: Dylan O’Donnell

BGU scientists are supporting the Beresheet-2 mission by developing a miniscule hyperspectral imager that will record geological features and mineral composition on the moon. According to the plans, the Beresheet-2 spacecraft will enter an orbit around the moon. From there, it will launch two landing crafts equipped with scientific instruments to perform experiments on the surface of the moon. One of the tools for these experiments is the sophisticated hyperspectral camera developed by BGU faculty members Prof. Adrian Stern, Prof. Dan Blumberg, Prof. Stanley Rotman, and Dr. Yitzhak August. What makes this particular camera unique is its range and ability to compress the optical information that will be transmitted back to Earth. The high-resolution camera can capture over 100 wavelength ranges in visible light and near-infrared, and will photograph selected areas of the lunar surface (similar to the cameras installed on the Webb Space Telescope), including areas that were difficult to

photograph from Earth up until now – the polar regions and the far side of the moon. The technology was selected by SpaceIL to be part of the mission with the hope that it can provide an opportunity for precise and systematic mineral analysis and mapping, leading to a better understanding of the geology of the surface of the moon. Prof. Stanley Rotman, an expert in multidimensional image processing in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said: “The development of the algorithm makes it possible to receive an accurate color spectrum for each object, hence the data about the nature of the material will also be more accurate.” The technology behind the tiny camera developed at BGU was licensed by BGN Technologies, the University’s technology transfer company, to Noohra, a hyperspectral imaging startup. In keeping with the founding ethos of the SpaceIL project, the hyperspectral imagery captured in the experiment

will be transmitted back to Earth and later be made public, while the researchers will make available dedicated analytical tools for the analysis of the images to researchers worldwide. Dr. Jimmy Levy, co-founder of Noohra shares that ethos: “We very much look forward to sharing the data collected by our hyperspectral imaging system with scientists and students around the world to deepen our understanding of the physical and chemical processes on the moon’s surface.” Prof. Dan Blumberg, BGU’s Vice President for Regional & Industrial Development and one of the leaders of the project, explained succinctly, “The scientific research that goes on at Ben-Gurion and other universities is a basis for breakthroughs in all areas of life. The opportunity to test our developments in an actual space mission is a privilege as well as affirmation of the value of our work.”

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Space Entrepreneurs Ben-Gurion University of the Negev pioneered entrepreneurship training in Israel, producing startups and initiatives that are changing the world. and offers courses and workshops on the world of space, as well as guidance on scientific projects and research in the formal and informal sector. Space Valley collaborates with a range of BGU graduates have launched innovative space-based initiatives and startups that save lives, resources, and educate the next generation

and other planets. He subsequently recognized that the same technology – synthetic aperture radar – could be even more effective here on Earth. The water was closer, the need more immediate, and the technology had the potential to solve several critical problems. He co-founded Utilis (now known as Asterra) in 2013 to develop applications for the new technology and leak detection in underground water systems became its first commercially used application in 2016. Asterra’s technology uses a band of the radio spectrum to penetrate the Earth’s surface from an orbiting satellite; and an algorithm, fine-tuned to detect treated drinking water, can detect underground leaks as small as 0.5 liters per minute. Applications of the same technology are now offered for dams, wastewater systems, mining and more. After several years in the hi-tech industry, Dr. Guy Hetz and Dr. Marina Hetz, both graduates of the EPIF, left for the quiet of the Jezreel Valley, where they founded the educational startup Space Valley in 2017. Today, the company has about ten employees

In keeping with this issue’s theme, we turn the spotlight onto a few successful space-related startups. The Earth and Planetary Imaging Facility (EPIF), in particular, has played a key role in disseminating remote sensing to many walks of life in Israel and, just as importantly, has provided the foundations for related initiatives and startups that save lives, resources, and educate the next generation. Roi Shiloh, a graduate of the EPIF, is the founder and CTO of PlanetWatchers, which provides crop monitoring and analysis services to the crop insurance industry. The company, founded in 2016, uses a data fusion of synthetic aperture radar optical imagery obtained through remote sensing and machine learning algorithms to detect and monitor crop planting, growth,

local authorities to bring space related content to thousands of children and adults every year. Adam Bismut was still a student when he began working on what would become SightBit, with the support of BGU’s Cactus Capital Fund and the InNegev accelerator. The company specializes in what it calls the “human water interface”, offering an AI powered platform for prediction and prevention of various scenarios related primarily to supporting lifeguard services, but also to monitoring spills and pollution along beaches and more. SightBit uses AI to enable efficient decision making based on real-time data from existing video feeds, as well as predictions made based on aggregate data analysis. The company has signed contracts with various local authorities in Israel and abroad. We can’t wait to see the next innovations coming out of BGU.

harvest, and identify damage. BGU alumnus Lauren Guy, first

developed a technological solution for finding underground water on Mars

Asterra's satellite imagery shows potential leaks (in yellow, left), with overlay of all water pipes (in blue, right). Images: Asterra


Black Hole Mysteries

Dr. Shira Chapman of the Department of Physics studies the behavior of black holes and quantum systems.

Physicist Dr. Shira Chapman has been fascinated by black holes since her childhood. She is pursuing her passion as a researcher, studying the relation between information processing in quantum mechanical systems and the way black holes process the information of objects which fall into them. “I knew as a child that I wanted to do quality science that would contribute to a deeper understanding of the

universe and its behavior,” she recalls. Dr. Chapman completed her bachelor's degree in physics while still in high school and began her graduate studies at Tel Aviv University during her military service. She held postdoctoral fellowships at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, in, Canada and at the University of Amsterdam. She joined BGU’s Department of Physics in January 2021.

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Recent research links black holes and quantum computing: apparently the way black holes process information is similar to the way information is processed in quantum systems.

She has already proved to be a promising researcher in her field, having won research grants from the European Research Council and the Israel Science Foundation, and received a prestigious three-year Alon scholarship for outstanding young scientists from the Council for Higher Education. She has also been generously supported by the Weinstein family through the University’s presidential recruit program for promising young faculty members. Although her research focuses on theoretical physics, she too shares the scientific community’s excitement over recent groundbreaking discoveries concerning black holes, and especially the first measurements of gravitational waves in black hole collisions and the first ever images of

Some black holes are gigantic, with a mass that is hundreds of millions of times greater than the mass of our sun. These holes are insatiable, swallowing ‘unlucky’ stars that pass nearby. The geometry of space and time around them is so curved because of their mass, that an outside observer cannot see into them. In other words, their gravitational compression is so great that all matter and light are trapped within their gravitational field and cannot be observed beyond the ‘event horizon,’ the theoretical boundary surrounding a black hole, marking the point beyond which events cannot affect external observers and cannot be discerned by them. Recent research links black holes to quantum computing: apparently the way black holes process information is similar to the way information is processed in quantum systems. "I investigate these connections with an emphasis on quantum complexity, a theory within quantum information physics, which helps assess the difficulty of computational problems when implementing them on a quantum computer. The link to black holes teaches us that quantum complexity can help describe the processes that take place inside black holes, including the continuous growth in volume behind their horizons”, explains Dr. Chapman. “In other words, the unexpected connection between black holes and quantum information processing indicates that two things that at first glance seem independent, are in fact closely related. Such surprising links between unrelated fields may occur in other areas of science as well, including social sciences and humanities.

black holes, produced by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, using observations from a worldwide network of radio telescopes. Black holes are peculiar and massive celestial objects. Their formation is often the result of the collapse of a very massive star at the end of its life cycle. In most cases, the collapse of the star’s core results in a massive explosion and the formation of a neutron star. Scientists theorize, based on Einstein’s theory of relativity, that sometimes a star’s mass is so great and its gravitational forces so powerful that the core’s collapse is insufficient to actually destroy the star, and instead of a supernova – the final explosion that occurs at the end of a star's life cycle – a black hole is formed.

View of the M87 supermassive black hole taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. Image: European Southern Observatory


Prof. Oren Shriki demonstrates a headset for measuring brain electrical activity

Astronaut Eytan Stibbe utilized his stay aboard the International Space Station to perform experiments testing ideas and technologies developed by Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs. One of the studies, led by Prof. Oren Shriki of the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at BGU, examined electrical activity in the brain under conditions of microgravity.

The Brains Behind an Experiment in Space

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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe joined forces to conduct a unique experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2022. The experiment sought to understand what happens to brain activity during long space journeys, when the body is in zero gravity for an extended period. Former IDF pilot and entrepreneur Stibbe utilized his 2-week stay aboard the ISS as part of the Rakia mission to carry out a series of experiments testing ideas and technologies developed by Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs. One of the studies, led by Prof. Oren Shriki of the Department of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at BGU, examined electrical activity in the brain under conditions of microgravity. For the experiment, Stibbe brought on board a portable electroencephalography (EEG) headset for measuring brain activity, developed by the Israeli start-up company Stibbe and two other astronauts used the headset to

take several measurements of their own brain activity in microgravity conditions and these were compared with measurements taken before their stay in space and after their return to Earth. The experiments developed in Prof. Oren Shriki’s laboratory were integrated into the software, which was uploaded to the ISS ahead of the mission. The analysis of the results was led by graduate student Ofir Almagor. Prof. Shriki and Almagor attended the launch of the Axiom-1, the Dragon spacecraft that carried Stibbe and three other astronauts to the ISS, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They then returned to a dedicated control center in Israel, from where communications with Stibbe and the other astronauts took place during the experiments. The study had two main objectives: the first was to demonstrate the practical feasibility of monitoring longitudinal changes in brain activity and cognitive function during a continuous stay in

space; And the second, to identify and quantify such changes, to monitor the health of astronauts’ brain and neural systems. Long-term journeys in space, such as a future trip to Mars, will require monitoring of astronauts' brains and neural systems. Previous measurements used EEG systems based on conductive gel, which are cumbersome and complicated to use in zero gravity conditions. In contrast, the system sent to the ISS included more than 100 dry electrodes, which do not require the use of conductive gel. “We believe that it is very important to characterize the differences in brain activity while resting and during the performance of cognitive tasks in space," says Prof. Shriki. "Experiments of this type may enable better decision making in maintaining the health of the astronauts, which is important for future space flights.”

"Experiments of this type may enable better decision making in maintaining the health of the astronauts, which is important for future space flights. "

Prof. Oren Shriki and his student Ophir Almagor at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Courtesy


Aiming for the Stars Dr. Shimrit Maman, Director of the Earth and Planetary Image Facility at BGU, combines groundbreaking space technology with the study of natural phenomena for a wide range of applications, from astronomical research to resource conservation and disaster relief and management.

Using satellite data we can generate infromation for research, monitoring, and even search & rescue operations.

Dr. Shimrit Maman, Director of the Earth and Planetary Image Facility (EPIF) and Head of the UN-SPIDER Israel Regional Support Office, found her calling early. From the outset, she found research fascinating, challenging, and fun, on top of “constantly having to be doing something, moving things forward, striving for achievements”, as she put it. She first encountered remote sensing during her undergraduate studies in the Department of Geography and Environmental Development at Ben-Gurion University. From there she went on to study for a master’s degree in the Department of Environmental Physics and Solar Energy at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, where she researched water problems in Central Asia by mapping the clay soil that holds water reserves in Turkmenistan. She was one of the first researchers to conduct research of this kind in a post-Soviet country. Maman returned to the Department of Geography for her PhD and then was a postdoctoral fellow at BGU’s Kreitman School of Advanced Graduate Studies. While conducting field measurements in the heart of the Red Sand (Kyzylkum) Desert in Uzbekistan for her doctoral research, a satellite

passed above, photographing the Earth’s surface. Dr. Maman then realized just how transformative the field she had chosen was, combining groundbreaking space technology with on the ground study of natural phenomena. “I had studied climate change in the sand deserts of Central Asia for several years before I arrived there in person,” she says. “Using satellite data to obtain images of the Earth and other planets, we can generate information for research, monitoring, and even search & rescue operations without having to physically be at the site we want to investigate.” Analysis of the images taken from space makes it possible to learn about places that are difficult and sometimes even impossible to access, such as minefields, unstable ground with sinkholes, and disaster areas where access is too dangerous. In recent decades, applied research has increasingly been using this kind of information in disaster management and disaster risk mitigation. Today, disaster response based on satellite data begins with emergency mapping for rescue and continues with the designing of plans for long-term rehabilitation.

According to Dr. Maman, the images generated through satellite remote sensing allow us to acquire essential knowledge that cannot be obtained in any other way. When a disaster such as a flood or an earthquake drastically transforms the Earth’s surface, remote sensing can provide answers to the most immediate and pressing questions, such as: what routes can rescue teams use to safely access the disaster zone? Which areas are in most need of immediate relief? And which will require rehabilitation? One of Dr. Maman’s most important responsibilities is selecting the sensors that will provide the information most vital to disaster management. The information is then processed to produce maps that help minimize the damage and long-term effects of the disaster. At the beginning of the millennium, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and NASA, the American space agency, signed an agreement to establish a regional planetary imaging laboratory within the University’s geography department. As part of the agreement, NASA provided

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environmental research, as well as a satellite ground station dedicated specifically to the BGUSAT nanosatellite (see below). “BGU is my second home. Working with the talented people here is a great privilege. The responsibility entrusted to me, the opportunity to lead

the lab with data that enabled the creation of a map documenting the surfaces of the planets Venus and Mars. Over time, the lab accumulated significant amounts of data, including additional geological mapping of near and distant planets, and algorithms

or dreams. I enjoy academic and creative freedom and can initiate and dare, even ‘dream,’ to lead and promote processes, such as our involvement in community projects that expose youngsters to what we really do at the University. We show them that they too can achieve their dreams.”

were developed to identify various phenomena. A receiving station for satellites observing the Earth was also established for the purposes of A Tiny Satellite with a Huge Impact processes, and the chance I was given to do things my own way – all of these are above and beyond my expectation

BGUSAT is one of BGU’s most significant achievements in the field of aerospace. A nanosatellite about the size of a milk carton and weighing just five kilograms, BGUSAT was launched from India on February 15, 2017 as part of a collaboration between Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The nanosatellite, containing a computer and a short-wave infra-red camera designed to explore atmospheric and weather phenomena in infra-red wavelengths, was designed, developed, and assembled entirely in Israel.

What began as a fourth-year engineering student project, went through nearly ten years of delays and redesigns, until the Israel Space Agency, IAI and other supporters came on board. The day of the launch was filled with great expectations as well as concerns. Prof. Blumberg, Dr. Maman, and graduate student Aviran Sadon gathered at the EPIF early in the morning to watch the launch livestreamed from the Indian Space Agency, tensely waiting until they heard that all 104 satellites had been successfully deployed into orbit.

Once they received the first signal from BGUSAT, containing its telemetry identification data, BGU became a bona fide member of the space club! The ground station that receives BGUSAT’s signals was established at BGU with the generosity of Rachel and Max Javit. Hopefully, it will serve future University space endeavors as well. BGUSAT completed its mission earlier this year, in March, 2023, and is no longer in orbit. Tiny as it was, launching BGUSAT was a complex project that served as a platform for extensive collaboration between researchers from different disciplines across the University and industry worldwide. Tiny as it was, launching the BGUSAT was a complex project that served as a platform for extensive collaboration between researchers from different disciplines across the University.

Dr. Shimrit Mamman with a lifesize model of the BGUSAT


SheSpace participants conduct field measurements for their final projects

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev supports female high schoolers studying STEM subjects through the SheSpace Program.

Discovering New Worlds through SheSpace

Space exploration has always excited the human imagination. At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the mysteries of outer space and the technology developed to explore it have become a means of empowering women and a tool to develop new critical ways of thinking. Just ask the participants of the SheSpace initiative. SheSpace is a first-of-its-kind educational outreach project aimed

at female high school students from Israel’s south, a collaboration between the Earth and Planetary Image Facility (EPIF) at Ben-Gurion University under the direction of Dr. Shimrit Maman, and Beit Yatsiv, an educational outreach and community center in Beer-Sheva. The project was supported by the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology, in collaboration with the Education

Department of the Beer-Sheva Municipality. “When we first began working on SheSpace, we had the late Deborah Blumberg in mind,” said Dr. Maman. “She was a role model of both personal and academic excellence.”The project is dedicated in her memory. The first cohort to participate in the program in 2017 was comprised of 20 girls in grades 10-11 at high schools in Beer

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Through SheSpace, these girls became immersed in a field that is not part of the regular high school curriculum – remote sensing.

Sheva and the surrounding region. They were majoring in a range of science tracks, including geography, chemistry, physics, and biology, and were all endowed with remarkable curiosity and high motivation, the ability to work well in a team, and personal excellence. “Through SheSpace, these girls became immersed in a field that is not part of the regular high school curriculum – remote sensing – or in other words, the acquisition of information about the Earth through satellite images. They learned how to carry out measurements in the field, as well as to process data from the satellite images. As part of the program, they also attended intensive summer camps, where they participated in workshops on personal empowerment and leadership. “Another highlight of the program was attending the annual meeting of the Israeli Geographical Association and presenting their research in panels dealing with remote sensing alongside experts from Israel and abroad,” recalls Dr. Maman. The culmination of the SheSpace program is a group research project. Each team chooses a topic in agricultural or environmental research to which remote sensing could be applied, and develops a method for processing the spectral data received from the VENμS satellite. The VENμS satellite was jointly launched by the Israeli and French space agencies in August 2017 (for more on the VENμS satellite, see page 21). Dr. Maman recalls how the program came to be aimed specifically at girls: “As researchers in the EPIF, we worked with images sent by the VENμS satellite, which at that time was at the

forefront of technology in terms of its spectral channels, and its spatial and temporal resolution. The name of the satellite immediately reminded us of the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and from there the idea was born to devote the project to women only. It was only after we had begun that we understood the importance of such a project aimed specifically at girls.” The underlying premise of the program is that exposure at a young age to advanced fields of science and inspiring role models will encourage girls to overcome gender stereotypes and develop careers in fields traditionally considered masculine. And in addition to encouraging young women to study STEM subjects, there is the important message that each and every one of them is free to choose their areas of interest and have the right to do so in a supportive atmosphere, free of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination.

SheSpace International Soars What started as a local program for girls from the Negev with a thirst for knowledge has since expanded to additional countries around the world, including Germany, the US, Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Peru. As additional research teams joined the program, it became SheSpace International. Today, girls from around the world are studying the effects of climate change on their local environments – each group using data from a satellite over their own country – in an inspiring transnational collaboration. The Israeli team continues to work with data from the VENμS satellite, the German team receives data from Sentinel-2, the Americans from Landsat-8, and the Brazilians from CBERS. The program has been so successful it received the 2021 International Astronautical Federation’s Excellence in 3G (Geography, Gender, Generation) Diversity Award. As Dr. Maman said at the award ceremony, “this flagship project allows young women to participate in cutting-edge research, to utilize advanced space-based technologies with real-world research applications, and to build research collaborations and social connections that transcend international boundaries and borders.”

Today, girls from around the world are studying the effects of climate change on their local environments in an inspiring transnational collaboration.


Prof. Karnieli at the Guiana Space Centre, the launch site of the Vega rocket which carried the VENμS Satellite to space. Photo: Courtesy

Prof. Arnon Karnieli, one of the founders of the Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, has been analyzing satellite imagery for over 30 years.

Long-Distance Sensing

the 1970s. They provide a great deal of data about a range of different processes taking place on the Earth’s surface, in the oceans, and in the atmosphere, including those that are the result of climate change and human activity. Prof. Arnon Karnieli, one of the founders of the Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research in Sde Boker, has been analyzing satellite imagery for over 30 years. When he returned to Israel from his doctoral studies in the US in 1988, there were

only two observation satellites in orbit around the planet and just a handful of people were familiar with remote sensing or understood the potential information hidden in the images sent back to Earth. Karnieli built up the BGU Remote Sensing Lab from scratch and transformed it into a key partner in a slew of global research collaborations. The big breakthrough came in 1992, when BGU signed a scientific cooperation agreement with NASA. The agreement included two significant clauses: one allowed

Remote sensing provides complex sophisticated data about the Earth (and other celestial bodies) using satellites and aircraft. Thanks to humanity’s race to space, observations of the Earth from space have been consistent and continuous since

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