FedTech Bisnow: Shuttle Diplomacy

FedTech Bisnow: Shuttle Diplomacy

May 2011


The end of the shuttle program could become a boon to tech startups. A response to a Kennedy Space Center RFI proposes making KSC the home of a joint US-Israeli space R&D incubator.

The proposal was the product of the US-Israel Commercial Space Roundtable hosted in February by the US-Israel Science and Technology Foundation, USISTF executive director Ann Liebschutz told us yesterday. Space policy in both the US and Israel is shifting toward commercial space activities, so USISTF assembled stakeholders from government and industry to develop a plan of action for KSC. The roundtable held at the end of the Ilan Ramon International Space Conference in Tel Aviv, was attended by NASA, the Departments of Commerce and State, Israel’s Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor, and a number of commercial aerospace companies (including SpaceX and Israel’s Rafael and ISI). The results were compiled into an action plan that was published this week.

USISTF is private non-profit set up in 1995 by US Department of Commerce and the Israeli Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor (MITL). It’s charged with coordinating R&D cooperation between public and private sectors in both countries. A shift to commercializing is “clearly spelled out” in US space policy, and the government of Israel is “investing multimillions” developing its own commercial space sector (leveraging Israel’s defense industry).  NASA and Israel signed a memorandum of intent to cooperate last summer, Ann says, around technologies such as “certain kinds of cameras, launch capabilities, and nanosatellites.” Those are some of the areas proposed to be covered by the incubator, which would provide basic business support to space R&D ventures and work with them toward licensing or patenting new tech.

Ann (who says her energy dictates that she never sit) moderated. At the head of the table are International Trade Administration’s Holly Vineyard and Israeli MITL chief scientist Dr. Eli Opper. USISTF is also hosting biotech events around the upcoming BIO conference in DC. The nonprofit also promotes broad tech cooperation on a state level, helping state development agencies forge R&D agreements with MITL to drive tech development. These partnership programs are set up to select companies to fund through a joint RFP process, Ann says. One example: a recent RFP issued by Israel and the state of Wisconsin for project proposals “in all areas of technological industrial research and development.” Winning Wisconsin proposals can get up to 50% of project costs funded in the form of tax credits and low-interest loans from the state. Similar joint developments are being worked out for Virginia and Maryland, and a pending agreement in Ohio would leverage the Air Force Research Lab in Dayton and Ohio’s $2.3B Third Frontier tech development program.

We’re not sure how we got Ann (who has a JD from John Marshall Law and a physics degree from Lake Forest College) to stay still long enoug to talk to us. Aside from running the occasional marathon (above, she’s in the recent inaugural Jerusalem Marathon with David Goldman and Better Place electric car infrastructure entrepeneur Michael Granoff), she’s just back from Nigeria, where she was asked by the International Republican Institute to serve as an observer during that country’s presidential elections (her experience working campaigns and as a former legislative assistant and counsel to Senator Jim Bunning came in handy). If you need to talk to her, we suggest wearing running shoes.