Spain Presses Ahead with Dual-Use Imaging Satellites

by

FRASCATI, Italy — The Spanish government is expected to approve a contract for construction of the Ingenio optical Earth observation satellite in the coming weeks in the latest demonstration of Spain’s unique approach to space-technology development for civil, military and commercial use.

The Ingenio satellite will be built by Astrium Satellites under a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA), which in turn is under contract to the Spanish government to manage the program’s development.

Ingenio, to be launched in 2014, will use the same Astrium Astrosat platform as the Spot 6 Earth observation satellite now under construction for Astrium Services. Ingenio’s performance will resemble that of Spot 6 and of the larger Spot 5 satellite already in orbit with a 60-kilometer swath width and a 2.5-meter ground resolution. Like Spot 6, which will be launched two years before it, Ingenio will have a seven-year contractual service life.

Ingenio is the optical half of the Spanish government’s major new push into dual-use space-based Earth observation. The Paz radar satellite is already under construction by Astrium Satellites and is scheduled for launch in 2012. Paz’s in-orbit specifications are similar to those of Germany’s TerraSAR-X satellite, currently in orbit. Paz will have a 1-meter ground resolution.

Paz and Ingenio together are expected to cost some 400 million euros ($600 million) combined to develop, a figure that includes an ESA program-management fee.

Paz is being developed for Spain’s Ministry of Defense in an unusual financial arrangement in which the Spanish government has agreed to finance a loan to military satellite operator Hisdesat of Spain, which then contracted with Astrium, according to Jorge Lomba Ferreras, head of ESA programs at the Spanish Center for Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI). CDTI is Spain’s lead space development agency. The Defense Ministry will be Hisdesat’s principal, but not exclusive, customer for Paz data, he said.

In an Oct. 21 interview at ESA’s Esrin center here, Lomba Ferreras said Paz and Ingenio will both be operated by commercial companies that will be responsible for providing imagery products to the Spanish government, with a portion of the satellites’ capacity reserved for commercial sales.

But he said Paz and Ingenio were born of different strategic motivations. “Paz’s main goal is to serve the Ministry of Defense, with a secondary goal that of giving Spanish industry research and development expertise,” Lomba Ferreras said. “Ingenio’s principal driver is to provide industry with R&D know-how, with a secondary motivation being to provide imagery.”

Spanish authorities say both Paz and Ingenio will be Spain’s principal contributions to pan-European Earth observation efforts now being developed. On the civil side, the executive commission of the 27-nation European Union, along with ESA, is building the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program.

On the military side, five nations including Spain are attempting to link Europe’s independent radar and optical satellite systems, first through agreements allowing mutual access to data, and then through development of a common ground segment, under a program called Musis — Multinational Space-Based Imaging System for Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Observation.

It remains unclear how Ingenio will be handled with respect to the commercial market. The question is whether the satellite will become part of the commercial portfolio of Spot Image of Toulouse, France, owned by Astrium Services, or whether Hisdesat will create its own commercial outlet.

Spanish authorities are developing a common ground segment for Paz and Ingenio, which will make Spain Europe’s only nation with its own optical and radar systems once the satellites begin operation. Germany and France, which have their own radar and optical military satellite systems, respectively, have agreed to provide each other with imagery through ground installations expected to be operational in 2010.

Paz and Ingenio are part of a broader Spanish government decision to focus on space technology to stimulate the national technology base while at the same time reinforcing Spain’s presence in the 18-nation ESA.

For Ingenio, Spanish government officials concluded that their goal was to develop technology in Spain, not to duplicate ESA’s ability to manage space development programs.

Volker Liebig, ESA’s director of Earth observation, confirmed Oct. 22 that ESA would be signing the Ingenio contract in the coming weeks. He said ESA is appreciative of the fact that Spain is developing a national space industrial base without reducing its contributions to ESA efforts.

On the contrary, Spain has been steadily increasing its ESA contributions in recent years, reaching 185 million euros in 2009. Lomba Ferreras said the government has asked the Spanish parliament to approve an increase to about 200 million euros for 2010. Neither of these figures includes about 50 million euros in spending on Ingenio. Spain has become ESA’s fifth-largest contributor after France, Germany, Italy and Britain.Spain has taken an early prominent share, of about 30 percent, in ESA’s Space Situational Awareness program, which remains at the study stage until ESA governments decide on full-scale program development in 2011.

“All our future plans for [satellite development] are being channeled through ESA,” Lomba Ferreras said. He was at ESA’s Esrin site as part of a presentation of ESA’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) Earth observation satellite, for which Spain is providing the principal instrument.