It is now possible the two next-generation Spot optical Earth observation satellites, being financed entirely by the private sector, may be in orbit before Spain’s Ingenio spacecraft, which has a similar mission, according to managers of both programs.

The relationship between Spain’s Ingenio and the Spot 6 and Spot 7 programs has always been complicated given that all three satellites feature similar capabilities: collecting black-and-white imagery at ground resolutions of 2.2 meters to 2.5 meters, and color imagery at 8 meters to 10 meters resolution, with a swath width of 55 kilometers to 60 kilometers.

Astrium Services, which owns Earth observation services company Spot Image of Toulouse, France, has contracted with Astrium Satellites to build the two Spot follow-on spacecraft. Astrium has said it is spending around 300 million euros ($378 million) for the Spot 6 and Spot 7 missions.

Astrium Satellites and Casa Espacio of Spain are leading construction of the Ingenio satellite.

But while Ingenio was decided well before Spot 6 and Spot 7 and is part of a Spanish government contract giving program management authority to the European Space Agency (ESA), the current schedule is for Spot 6 to be launched in 2012 and Spot 7 in 2014. Ingenio is tentatively scheduled for launch in 2014, according to Monica Lopez of Spain’s CDTI agency, which represents Spain at ESA.

Spanish authorities had said early in the Ingenio program that they wanted the satellite launched before Spot 6 and Spot 7 to establish a presence in the market.

European governments crafting a Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) system for Earth observation are getting used to having competing suppliers, with Italy’s e-Geos and Germany’s Infoterra marketing data from the Italian COSMO-Skymed and German TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X missions, respectively.

Spain, which has a declared national ambition to take a seat at the table of those with data to share, is pursuing Ingenio and the Paz radar spacecraft, slated to launch in 2011 or 2012.

Spanish authorities have not spelled out how Ingenio data will be distributed, or whether commercial sales will be a part of the program.

Astrium Services has said Spot 6 and Spot 7 will be integrated into Spot Image’s current portfolio, which includes the Spot 4 and Spot 5 satellites, both now well beyond their contracted service life. Spot also has access to Taiwan’s Formosat-2 and South Korea’s Kompsat-2 satellites.