The Spanish government has nearly doubled its contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA) in the last five years as it seeks to establish itself as a partner who counts in Earth observation, telecommunications and navigation, Spanish government officials said.


The increase, from about 120 million euros ($189 million) in 2003 to 210 million euros this year, has coincided with Spain’s decision to build its own radar and optical Earth observation satellites, which are scheduled to be launched in 2012. These satellites, budgeted at a combined 350 million euros, are being funded over five years as a special allocation to
Spain’s national space budget, which is around 20 million euros this year managed by Spain’s technology research agency, CDTI.


CDTI Director-General Maurici Lucena said Spain’s decision to invest in its own Earth observation satellites should not be viewed as a turning away from ESA. Given the still sizable difference between the budget dedicated to ESA programs and the money set aside for national efforts, Spain cannot be considered as embarking on a solo effort.


“In the near future we just want to be viewed as a first-rate partner, and we want to increase our contribution to be level with our economic weight” in Europe, Lucena said in comments here May 29 at the Berlin air show, ILA 2008, and in a brief interview. “Even one of our national satellites is being managed through ESA.”


Spain has signed preliminary authorizations with Astrium Satellites and a group of Spanish companies, including Astrium’s CASA division in Spain, to build the Ingenio medium-resolution optical and Paz high-resolution radar satellites, to be launched in 2012. Final contracts are expected later this year, but Spanish authorities say the financial and political commitment is secure.


Mercedes Sierra, director of aerospace programs at CDTI, said Ingenio and Paz both will be used for a combination of civil and military needs. Madrid-based Hisdesat, a consortium of Spanish companies including satellite-fleet operator Hispasat, will be in charge of developing the business for both satellites. Hisdesat is the Spanish partner to Loral Space and Communications of New York in the Xtar company, which commercializes X-band satellite capacity aboard two military telecommunications satellites.


In a May 28 interview, Sierra said the Paz radar satellite will resemble Germany’s TerraSAR-X spacecraft, whose data will be sold commercially by Infoterra GmbH. A twin satellite, called TanDEM-X, is scheduled for launch in 2009. Hisdesat will receive imagery from Germany’s TerraSAR-X to get an early start on working with radar data.


The Ingenio satellite, which is expected to have a 2.5-meter-resolution optical imager, will be a smaller version of the Spot 5 satellite operated by Spot Image of Toulouse, France. Spot Image plans to order a Spot 6 successor satellite this year from Astrium, and Sierra said CDTI will seek clarification from Astrium to assure that the Ingenio work is not slowed by the addition of Spot 6 to Astrium’s order books.

Sierra conceded that, at least on the surface, Astrium could be viewed as having competing interests. Astrium is set to become the principal shareholder in Spot Image once it reaches an agreement with the French space agency, CNES, on the sale of CNES’ equity stake in Spot Image.


Whether Hisdesat will become a competitor to Spot Image, Sierra said, is unknown, “but it’s clear that we both are going after at least some of the same markets. What we can say today is that Ingenio is fully financed, whereas the situation is not clear with Spot 6.”


Sierra said Spain is proposing to use the Ingenio optical satellite as an in-kind contribution to the multilateral Musis effort by a half-dozen European countries to design a common ground segment for their future reconnaissance satellites. Musis, or Multinational Space-based Imaging System, is intended to assure that the next generation of European reconnaissance satellites is designed from the start for such compatibility.


Europe’s current generation of military or dual-use satellite – Germany’s SAR-Lupe and TerraSAR-X, Italy’s four-satellite Cosmo-Skymed radar spacecraft and the French Helios optical reconnaissance satellites – have been designed independently.


Spain has budgeted about 195 million euros for the Ingenio satellite and about 155 million euros for the Paz radar system. To help finance Paz, CDTI has loaned 110 million euros to the Spanish Defense Ministry from a special general-purpose government fund created for such purposes, Sierra said. The Defense Ministry will reimburse the funds with annual payments once the satellite is operational.


Spain’s INTA aerospace-research agency is contributing about 30 million euros for the Paz project. The preliminary contract, or Authorization to Proceed, for the Paz radar satellite already has been signed to permit work to begin, but Sierra admitted the schedule and the budget are both “very tight.”