The launch of the Spainsat military telecommunications satellite will add Spain to the small group of governments that want the private sector to handle the provision of satellite telecommunications to military forces.

Britain has gone the outsourcing route with its Skynet satellite system, with a privately owned consortium managing current and future satellite assets for a fixed annual fee. The German government appears about to select EADS Space to operate a two-satellite system that would be partly government-owned, and partly privately owned.

The French and Italian satellite military telecommunications systems were purchased as part of conventional government procurements, but both nations are weighing whether to adopt at least part of the British and Spanish model for their next spacecraft.

Spainsat, built by prime contractor Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., with a substantial contribution from Spanish companies, will be used mainly by the Spanish Defense Ministry once it is operational in its planned 30 degrees west longitude slot. The satellite will have both X-band and Ka-band transponders.

The satellite’s launch has been delayed by a series of apparently minor technical glitches on the Ariane 5 ECA rocket and its launch pad here at Europe’s Guiana Space Center. The Arianespace commercial-launch consortium of Evry, France, was targeting a March 9 launch as of March 3.

Spainsat will be used in tandem with the Xtar-Eur satellite, which has been in orbit at 29 degrees east longitude since February.

Xtar-Eur, which carries 12 X-band transponders, will continue to be used by Spanish defense authorities to a limited extent, but the government’s principal satellite for X-band communications will become Spainsat once that satellite is available.

Spainsat has 13 X-band transponders and one Ka-band transponder. Capacity on Spainsat and Xtar-Eur that is not presold to the Spanish government will be marketed by Xtar LLC of Rockville, Md., a joint venture 56 percent owned by Loral Space and Communications of New York and 44 percent by Hisdesat Servicios Estrategicos of Madrid.

Hisdesat in turn is 43 percent owned by Hispasat, the Spanish commercial satellite operator; 30 percent by Insa, a division of Spain’s INTA government-owned aerospace research institute; 15 percent by EADS CASA Espacio; 7 percent by Indra, a defense and information technology company formerly owned by the Spanish government; and 5 percent by Spanish engineering company Sener.

The Hisdesat consortium has been assigned responsibility for managing Spain’s military communications system under a 20-year contract.

Miguel Angel Garcia Primo, chief operating officer of Hisdesat, said the contract has not been modified despite the fact that Spainsat is two years late entering service following a December 2003 accident when the satellite was being tested by Space Systems/Loral.

Garcia Primo said Spanish authorities have been able to use Xtar-Eur for the past year, and also have had access to capacity on the Hispasat 1C and 1D satellites, both located at 30 degrees west longitude, the future Spainsat position.

Garcia Primo said Hisdesat is not overly worried about the lack of substantial commercial success by Xtar in the year since the Xtar-Eur satellite was launched. The company’s principal objective was to land business with the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We knew that making inroads at the U.S. Defense Department would take some time and we are not particularly concerned that this business has not appeared the way we hope it will,” Garcia Primo said. “The U.S. military is a large institution; it takes time to make decisions. What we do know is that once it decides, it can take a lot of capacity.”

Xtar recently has signed agreements with several U.S.-based companies that regularly sell satellite capacity to the U.S. government, and these companies will be responsible for leasing Xtar business.

Garcia Primo said the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Loral may have been a factor in slowing the success of Xtar. Loral emerged from two years of bankruptcy proceedings in November.

While Space Systems/Loral is the Spainsat prime contractor, the Hisdesat partners here, including Hispasat, sought to emphasize the technologies provided by Spanish industry.

Antonio Abad Martin, technical director of Hispasat, said Spainsat’s IRMA in-orbit reconfigurable multi-beam antenna, built by EADS CASA Espacio.

The antenna’s four beams can be individually reoriented from the ground, without the need to move the antenna itself. Reconfigurable beams are one of the hot topics among satellite manufacturers in the United States, Europe and Japan, as they give satellite operators greater flexibility in coverage.

In IRMA’s case, the reconfigurability of the satellite also serves as a jam- or eavesdropping-avoidance device.

Abad Martin said EADS CASA Espacio is specializing in reconfigurable antennas as part of the pan-European EADS Space group’s attempt to create centers of competence that do not overlap.

Garcia Primo said work on telecommunications antennas in Spain partly explains the Spanish government’s backing for the European Space Agency’s Artes technology-research program.


Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.