PARIS — The Spanish government has signed contracts with domestic industry teams to produce competing assessments of high-resolution radar and optical satellites for the Spanish Ministry of Defense, Spanish industry officials said. The work is expected to end in April, in time to be evaluated as part of Spain’s multiyear budget proposal to be set by June.

Spain’s defense ministry already is a 7 percent owner of the French-led Helios-1A high-resolution optical reconnaissance satellite, in operation for a decade, and a 2.5 percent owner of the Helios-2 system, whose first satellite, Helios 2A, was launched in December.

But Mercedes Sierra, vice president for space business at Spanish aerospace company Sener S.A. of Madrid, said Spain wants its own hardware.

“It is becoming clear in Europe that for defense, nations want their own, proprietary hardware that they can target independently,” Sierra said Feb. 16 during the “Earth Observation Industry Summit.” “Some of these systems are large enough to provide more capacity than an individual nation needs, which is why we need to think about making the satellites interoperable with other systems in Europe.”

European government officials in recent months have said European Union members , despite their increasingly close ties in defense matters, are insisting on autonomy in certain space-based assets, with the understanding that the ground infrastructure would permit capacity sharing with other nations. “Satellite data is not shared, it is exchanged,” is the way several government officials have summarized the situation.

Spanish government authorities are financing work by EADS CASA of Madrid on a high-resolution synthetic-aperture radar satellite system. It might share characteristics of the TerraSAR satellite being built for the German government, with some private-sector funding, by EADS CASA’s sister company, EADS Astrium GmbH of Germany.

Sener is evaluating a 1-meter-resolution optical system.

Vicente Ruiz Diaz-Araque, head of space projects at Indra Spacio of Madrid, which specializes in ground systems, said his company is leading a related effort for the Spanish government to assess the possible market for a military observation system that would also have civil-security applications.

GMV of Madrid, meanwhile, is under contract to determine whether a government-industry partnership, similar to Germany’s TerraSAR arrangement, would be feasible.

SSTL Galileo Test Craft Slated to Fly in December

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) appears to have bested its competitor, the large Galileo Industries S.A. consortium, in the race to complete the first Galileo test satellite for European government authorities.

European government officials said the SSTL navigation test satellite, which is less complicated and much less expensive than its competitor’s model, is scheduled for launch in December aboard Russian Soyuz rocket.

Galileo Industries’ test satellite, designed to more closely resemble the components of the operational 30-satellite navigation constellation, will be launched in the spring of 2006.

The European Union (EU) and European Space Agency were given a mid-2006 deadline to begin using the radio frequencies assigned to Galileo or risk having them revoked by international radio-spectrum regulators.

SSTL had made it a point of pride, and a demonstration of their lean production process, to be the first to complete its Galileo hardware.

Galileo Industries is a consortium of Europe’s largest satellite builders, who have not always appreciated SSTL’s low-cost approach to the business.

The EU, meanwhile, continues to solicit interest in Galileo around the world.

In addition to formal Galileo-participation agreements signed with China and Israel, EU authorities are finalizing arrangements with India, Canada, Russia and Ukraine.

Exploratory talks have begun with Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, said Heinz Hilbrecht, director of Trans-European Networks at the EU Commission’s Directorate of Energy and Transport, which is overseeing Galileo’s development.

Poles Still Hold Mystery, Cryosat Scientist Says

Analysis of more than a decade’s worth of radar imagery from Europe’s ERS and Envisat satellites has failed to confirm any reduction in the polar ice caps despite the widely held view that they are melting as a consequence of global warming, according to Duncan Wingham of University College in London.

Wingham is one of the payload specialists for the European Space Agency’s planned Cryosat satellite, which has been specially designed to investigate the status of the Arctic and Antarctic ice cover. Wingham said the two regions have retained much of their mystery despite the widespread interest in climate studies and global warming.

“Today it is straightforwardly impossible to say whether global warming is actually affecting the poles, as surprising as that may seem,” Wingham said during a press briefing Feb. 15 as part of the European Union’s “Earth and Space Week.” He spoke one day before the Kyoto Convention, which obliges signatory nations to reduce certain emissions thought to contribute to global warming, went into effect in Europe.

“We need to study the poles over time,” Wingham said. “It appears that while in some areas the ice cap is thinning, in others it is thickening. The total amount of ice going into the Antarctic Ocean is a net zero. There appears to be a natural variability that we were unaware of until several years ago. In the Arctic too, some regions appear to change because of changes in wind.” Cryosat is scheduled for launch in July.

European Center Relies Heavily on U.S. Imagery

The European Union Satellite Center in Torrejon, Spain — intended as a showcase of cooperation in using satellite imagery for defense and security purposes — does not have access to the French-led Helios high-resolution optical satellite system despite the French government’s public approval of such access, a satellite center official said.

Denis Bruckert, the center’s project manager, said negotiations with France on the conditions under which the center will be able to order imagery are continuing. In the mid-1990s, France agreed to give the center access to Helios, but at a cost equivalent to $40,000 per image. This is one reason why a facility that France had championed has become known for using more imagery from U.S. sources than European sources .

The center purchases commercially available satellite capacity to perform analyses of refugee movements or to make initial assessments of hot spots.

Bruckert said recent orders from the 25-nation European Union — orders also may come from individual member governments and NATO — involved evacuation planning for disaster management, monitoring North Korea’s nuclear installations and numerous studies of Iraq.

Working with Qinitiq of Britain, the center also has been using data from Europe’s Envisat radar satellite to track shipping in sensitive coastal areas in which illegal immigration or drug trafficking is suspected. The center has a total budget of about 10 million euros per year ($13 million).

It employs 68 people, including 18 trained satellite imagery interpreters.

NASA to Help Europeans Navigate Export Regime

NASA Chief of Staff John Schumacher said the agency is aware that, in some cases, international cooperation with NASA is more difficult now than in the past because of technology-export restrictions. He said NASA has offered to provide special assistance to non-U.S. partners in negotiating the U.S. State Department licensing regime to reduce paperwork and delays to a minimum.

In a press briefing during the International Space Conference organized by the European Union and the European Space Agency Feb. 17, Schumacher also said some delays are the natural result of the increasingly sophisticated international teaming arrangements that are a frequent feature of large NASA missions.

“As far as our export controls, there certainly have been more difficulties in some areas, and we have offered help with the State Department process,” Schumacher said. “But on specific projects, we have gone from a fairly lean cooperation to one where we are doing peer reviews, and where there are teaming arrangements. It has taken a lot more work.”

Schumacher said he expects that Europe will participate in NASA’s future James Webb Space Telescope to about the same extent, 15 percent, that Europe took part in the Hubble Space Telescope.

The theme of the Feb. 17- 18 conference, which drew nearly 50 governments, was international cooperation. European scientists have expressed concerns that the U.S. export control regime will make it difficult to manage cooperative projects with NASA.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.