Sener Reaping the Benefits of Spain’s Investment in Space

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LE BOURGET, France — Sener’s space products division reported a 12 percent increase in revenue, to 16 million euros ($22 million), and expects nearly double-digit revenue growth again in 2009 as it takes advantage of the Spanish government’s continued investment in space hardware, according to Diego Rodriguez, Sener’s space director.

Sener is focusing especially on guidance, navigation and control (GNC) systems and is part of a team, with GMV of Spain, working on the Proba-3 technology demonstration satellite for the European Space Agency (ESA). Proba-3 will demonstrate technologies needed for formation-flying, an expertise that many European government and industry officials think will be a growth sector for science, Earth observation and some military satellite applications.

Proba-3 will attempt to demonstrate an ability to maintain two satellites exactly 30 meters apart, with variations of only 1 millimeter. Sener and GMV are dividing a work package valued at about 12 million euros. Now in the design phase, Proba-3 is tentatively scheduled for launch in 2012.

“GNC and attitude, orbit and control have been identified in Spain as top priorities for our industry,” Rodriguez said June 17. “We are seizing any opportunity we can to promote our activity in these areas.”

While much of Spain’s space investment has gone through ESA and then back to Spanish industry in the form of ESA contracts, Spain is also developing radar and optical Earth observation satellites. The optical Ingenio satellite, while not yet formally under contract with Astrium Satellites, is nonetheless moving forward at the subcontractor level in preparation for a launch in 2013.

Astrium has begun work on two similar satellites, called Spot 6 and Spot 7, with the first to be launched in late 2012 for an Astrium sister company, Spot Image of Toulouse, France.

Whether Ingenio or the Spot 6/7 program will emerge first from Astrium’s production plant remains unclear. In an unusual setup, Spanish authorities hired ESA to perform overall program development. Rodriguez said his understanding is that Ingenio will be first to launch, since work on the spacecraft began first despite the lack of a formal contract.

Ingenio and Spot 6/7 will be able to detect objects that are 2.5 meters in diameter in black-and-white mode, and 8-10 meters across in color, and will feature 60-kilometer swath widths.

Rodriguez said that, unlike several other large, diversified companies in Europe that have sold their relatively small space divisions in order to focus on their core businesses, Sener’s parent company, Sener Group, has indicated it views the space division as a key growth area.

“We have strong support from our management and from our shareholders,” Rodriguez said. “But CDTI [Spain’s technology support agency, part of the Science and Innovation Ministry] has said there are too many space companies in Spain. Clearly some movement will occur in the sector.” He said he assumes for now that Sener is more likely to be a buyer than a seller.