The Spanish government has budgeted about $238 million to build a small optical Earth observation satellite whose development will be managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), according to Spanish government and ESA officials.
The 600-kilogram satellite, to be launched in 2010, will be used by Spanish government authorities for territorial surveillance, with additional capacity sold commercially by an operator to be selected at a later date. It will have a ground resolution of about 2.5 meters in black-and-white imaging mode.
The project has been approved as part of Spain’s 2006-2011 space-spending program, which features a sizable increase in spending on ESA programs to bring Spain’s contribution up to 8 percent of ESA’s total.
“Our government has approved increasing our spending on both national and ESA programs, with the goal at ESA to bring our annual ESA contribution to a rate equivalent to our GDP [gross domestic product] in ESA, which is 8 percent,” said Mercedes Sierra, director of space programs at Spain’s Center for Industrial Technology Development, CDTI, which coordinates Spanish space policy.
Sierra said June 29 that Spain’s current ESA investment — 166.7 million euros ($208.4 million) planned for 2006 — is equivalent to about 6 percent of ESA’s total. Sierra said Spanish investment in ESA will rise steadily in the next five years to reach the 8 percent goal in 2011.
That spending level is independent of the Spanish Earth observation satellite, which will be developed using a separate budget line in an unusual partnership between Spain and ESA.
Current plans are that ESA this summer will issue bid requests to industry for price estimates for the different satellite components. But instead of having ESA’s Industrial Policy Committee decide contract awards, it will be Spain’s CDTI that will make the final decision, Sierra said.
“We want to favor competition as much as possible and we are not planning on creating new capacity in Spain if it exists elsewhere,” Sierra said. “We are also open for other countries to join us in this project. But we plan to finance at least 70 percent of the total, with Spanish industry taking the lead on the main systems.”
Spain’s decision to subcontract the project’s technical management to ESA is not unprecedented for the European agency, but it is unusual, especially for a project of this size. Sierra said Spain does not want to duplicate at CDTI what ESA can provide in the way of program oversight, any more than it wants to create Spanish specialties in satellite subsystems that exist elsewhere in Europe. Spain would pay for ESA’s program management by reimbursing the cost to ESA of the personnel assigned to shepherd the satellite’s development through to launch.
Volker Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation, said June 29 that ESA regulations permit this kind of relationship with a national space program, but that a majority of ESA delegations must nevertheless approve the arrangement. Liebig said ESA will seek authorization from its ruling council in 2007.
“I certainly do not foresee any obstacles to approval,” Liebig said. “Spain has indicated clearly that this satellite could take part on our GMES program, and we see no conflict between our other Earth observation programs and what Spain plans to do.”
GMES, or Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, is a broad effort by ESA and the European Commission to use satellite Earth observation for a wide number of applications including disaster management, environmental and agricultural monitoring, coastal surveillance and other purposes.
ESA has estimated that it will cost about 2.3 billion euros to build the satellites needed for GMES, with half coming from ESA and half from the Brussels-based European Commission.
One problem facing GMES relates to service continuity. ESA wants to commit to building sufficient satellite infrastructure to persuade prospective government and private-sector users that the service will not be threatened once the first satellites reach the end of their service lives. But the European Commission’s current budget proposal — to be confirmed later this year — raises questions over whether that will be possible.
Sierra said Spain remains firmly committed to GMES and plans to integrate its own national satellite into the broader European program.