PARIS — The Spanish government, which has been a longtime junior partner to France in developing optical reconnaissance satellites, has agreed to purchase a medium-resolution spacecraft from EADS-CASA and Astrium Satellites as part of its own civil-military national space program, according to Col. Antonio Lazaro Espada, the Spanish air force’s chief of the French-led Helios optical reconnaissance program.


The contract for the satellite, to be called Ingenio, is expected to be signed within weeks and to be valued at 115 million euros ($177 million). Procurement management has been delegated to the 17-nation European Space Agency (ESA) in an unusual relationship given that only Spanish money is being used to finance the project.


Because Spain’s domestic industry does not possess all the expertise needed to build Ingenio, Spanish authorities have agreed that up to 50 percent of the satellite’s cost can be spent outside the country.


EADS-CASA, the Spanish arm of Astrium of Europe, competed with the Spanish division of Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy for the Ingenio contract. Thales Alenia Space officials protested that their bid was technically superior and less expensive than the Astrium proposal, but that view was rejected by ESA managers.


Peter Edwards, head of ESA’s Earth observation projects department, said ESA used its long-established proposal-evaluation process to weigh the two bids, and that while Spain’s National Aerospace Technology Institute, INTE, was involved in the evaluation, it was ESA’s criteria that were used to arrive at the decision.


“We had 70 engineers involved in this evaluation that spent three months reviewing the details of the bids,” Edwards said May 7. “I know there are some who are upset, but the CASA-Astrium proposal received more points in our evaluation.”


Espada said here May 6 during the Milspace 2008 conference organized by SMi that Astrium also has been selected to build the second component of Spain’s emerging national space-based observation program, the Paz radar satellite. That satellite’s procurement is being managed without ESA’s involvement, Edwards said.


Espada said both satellites are scheduled for launch around 2012.


An Astrium official said the company planned to use its AstroSat platform for both satellites, and likely would be able to build both Ingenio and a similar satellite, called Spot 6, at about the same time to save costs. Spot Image of Toulouse, France, in which Astrium is the principal industrial shareholder, needs a new satellite to succeed the Spot 5 Earth mapping satellite now in orbit.


A Spot 6 order has been held up as Astrium and the French space agency, CNES – which is also a Spot Image shareholder – negotiate a CNES exit from Spot Image’s equity to leave Astrium as the main shareholder. How much CNES would pay for Spot 6, if anything, remains a subject of negotiation.


Espada said the Spanish Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Industry are jointly backing development of the dual-use satellites to give Spain a full seat at the table of European governments possessing independent space-based reconnaissance assets.


Spain purchased a 7 percent stake in the French-led Helios-1 imaging satellite program and has a 2.5 percent share of the higher-resolution Helios-2 system. Spain also has agreed to finance 3 percent of the common costs of France’s two Pleiades high-resolution optical satellites. Unlike the military-dedicated Helios spacecraft, the two Pleiades units, to be launched in 2010-2011, are intended for both military and civil-commercial users.


Espada said Spain expects to spend around 350 million euros on the Ingenio and Paz systems.


Industry officials said the Ingenio satellite has been budgeted at about 195 million euros including a ground network and launch. Edwards said Spanish authorities, not ESA, are responsible for securing a launch. Ingenio is expected to weigh around 600 kilograms at launch and to carry an optical imager capable of detecting objects with a diameter of 2.5 meters.


Espada said Spain’s decision to build its own civil-military observation system should not be viewed as a sign of dissatisfaction with its role as a junior partner in the French Helios and Pleiades efforts.


“We are very happy with our French colleagues and I would like to thank them,” Espada said. “We have learned a lot from them. But our role in Helios does not meet our operational needs in a timely manner. I emphasize the word ‘timely.’ It is also cost-efficient and beneficial for our industry to have our own space-based means. It gives you a power you don’t have if you don’t have these means.”