Spain and Europe are risking their future in space

Spain and Europe are risking their future in space
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Today there is little doubt that data is the new oil, and this is because data is the basis of the digitalization of the economy and society. And satellites are the essential infrastructure to transmit them to any place, no matter how remote it may be.

Connecting the world to the Internet is the great challenge of this beginning of the century, not in vain it is a human right recognized by the UN in 2011. It is what will allow the generalization of basic rights such as education and health. This is what will facilitate greater efficiency in agriculture and livestock. What is helping us control climate change. It is what is making quality communication possible on board planes and ships. It is the need to optimize the use of data that is accelerating the deployment of new technologies such as 5G.

And all this is possible thanks to the fact that the satellite can connect any point under its coverage footprint, with the simple installation of an antenna and a router. For this reason, space has become the new battlefield; not only for the security of the territories, but also to make companies more competitive. It's not just about going to the Moon or Mars, but about improving our quality of life by making our small daily habits easier.

With the war in Ukraine, Europe has become aware of the disruptive moment we are experiencing and the fragility of its strategic autonomy. Only satellites guarantee communication

It is no coincidence that two of the richest and most visionary men on the planet, Elon Musk (Starlink) and Jeff Bezos (Kuiper), have set out to conquer space in a crazy race with megaconstellations of low-orbit satellites. These are thousands of small satellites that offer global coverage and have blown up the status quo. They have broken the traditional value chain because they themselves manufacture, launch, operate and service their satellites.

The result of this strategy is that they have extraordinarily lowered the costs of access to the space business, which until its emergence was reserved for the great powers. In some ways you could say that access to space has been democratized. Once again the strength of the market's investment muscle has been demonstrated.

Ukraine as a warning

With the war in Ukraine, Europe has become aware of the disruptive moment we are experiencing and, what is even more important, of the fragility of its strategic autonomy. Communications cannot be guaranteed in a territory, nor can a military defense strategy be developed without the invaluable information of the satellite and its use to communicate. The important thing is not just to have weapons, but to know how to use them quickly and accurately.

Great powers such as the US and China have incorporated the aerospace industry into their defense and security strategy for years. Europe has no choice but to follow these steps if it does not want to miss the train of the future. The space race is no longer a question of prestige, an identity trait, but a question of survival in a technologically very changing world.

This is how the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament have understood it, which have accelerated the implementation of their own constellation: IRIS2 (Infrastructure for Resilience, Interconnection & Security by Satellites). Not only has he done it in record time for what is common in European decision-making, but also in his response he has corrected his approach because he has incorporated the experience accumulated in previous projects: Copernicus and Galileo. Both the Earth observation business and the geolocation and navigation business were raised from the beginning with an exclusively public and free approach, eliminating the market from the equation.

Jodi Hereu, president of Hispasat, during an interview with La Vanguardia.

Emilia Gutierrez

On the contrary, on this occasion, the collaboration of governments and private companies has been proposed from the beginning, in order to guarantee its dual use, military and civil, and - what is more important - to leave commercial exploitation open to companies. European.

The bet is strong, we are risking the strategic sovereignty of Europe in the 21st century. For us, the most relevant thing is that for the first time a Spanish company like Hispasat is sitting at the table where decisions are made. We have the opportunity to look everyone in the eye on equal terms. We are influencing the decisions that are being made and we are driving Europe's leadership in space innovation in fields such as encryption through the use and distribution of quantum keys.

But the most relevant thing is that IRIS2 has been proposed by combining the experience of the large European companies in the sector with the dynamism of the startups that make up the so-called new space. A multi-orbital system has been launched; That is, it will combine constellations of low-orbit satellites, from 500 to 1,200 kilometers; medium orbits, around 8,000 kilometers; and the geostationary ones, at 36,000 kilometers.

This combination will facilitate the future of European industry, subject to strong commercial competition. You have to think that in ten years geostationary satellites have multiplied their capacity almost tenfold and that this is going to continue. For this reason, it is consistent to think that a consolidation of companies through a merger process will take place in the coming years.


Graphic with the basic parts of a Hispasat satellite.

Other sources

As of today, IRIS2 is in the midst of the bidding process and plans to start providing its first services in 2024. Undoubtedly, these are ambitious deadlines for a project of this magnitude. This calendar is once again supported by public-private collaboration, since it would use the capacities available in the satellites currently in orbit for these first services; while the new constellation would be fully operational in 2027.

At the beginning of May it was announced that one of the consortiums bidding for this new system will be led by the two largest satellite manufacturers – Airbus Defense & Space and Thales Alenia Space – and the three main European operators – Eutel¬sat. , Hispasat and SES–. It says a lot about the magnitude of the project that companies of this size and prestige have been able to come together for a common goal.

Along with them, a central team made up of other European companies in the space and telecommunications field will participate – Deutsche Telekom, OHB, Orange, Hisdesat, Telespazio and Thales – and would also have the participation of new space companies for the development of services. more innovative. A consortium, therefore, that already has representation from the six main nations in the space sector – Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Luxembourg – and that is working together to define an initial proposal for IRIS2 at the end of July .

The Spanish industry

We are facing a crucial point for the future of the European aerospace sector, perhaps the most important since its origin. Also, it is for our Spanish industry, one of the most relevant on the continent and, in some areas, an international leader.

It is essential that an opportunity of this caliber be taken advantage of by the Spanish space sector. We are not only risking maintaining our current position in the international arena, but also occupying a position in our own right in the future scheme.

This requires developing a decisive policy to face the new situation that has placed space at the center of the geopolitical plane. For years Hispasat has been committed to connecting the entire territory to the internet. For understanding that it is the essential element to facilitate the development of less populated Spain and increase the productivity of our economy in a digital environment. For this reason, it has been awarded the program financed with European funds to bring high-speed internet to all corners of the territory at a fixed price of 35 euros.

But we are also making a similar effort in Latin America, and even in places as far away as Greenland. We are convinced that the world will be better if all people have the same possibilities of access to the opportunities provided by the Internet, guaranteeing the universalization of digital rights, and this is only possible through satellite connectivity.

Jordi Hereu is president of Hispasat.

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