Spanish companies have been involved with the European space program for decades, and Spain is a member of the European Space Agency, contributing subsystems to the launcher of the International Space Station. Today, Spanish companies and research institutions have a significant and growing presence in all major ESA scientific missions. The Spanish government has recently rededicated itself to the space sector's growth with the Strategic Plan 2007– 2011, which includes a $267 million investment focusing on research and development.
Some of the same companies that have been creating new technologies for the aeronautics sector have turned their attention to space as well. For example, Indra, the information systems company, has developed control centers for satellites. Indra is also responsible for developing stations that process search-and-rescue systems for Galileo, the European navigation satellite system. GMV, a company with more than 20 years' experience in engineering and software for space and aviation, was recently selected to provide the mission planning and scheduling system for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the NASA Goddard mission to the moon scheduled for late 2008.
SENER has been working in space for 35 years, developing deployment, positioning, and pointing systems. The company is partnering with the United States for the Mars Sample Laboratory, designing the pointing mechanism for the Rover antenna.
An important project for SENER in the space sector is a partnership with a number of other European companies on an in-orbit servicing system. After satellites have been in orbit for the intended lifetime, about 10 to 15 years, they need to be retired from service. "The idea behind this [system]," says Quintana of SENER, "is to extend the life of the satellite by sending a vehicle that will dock with the existing satellite and provide extra years of operation by supplying control and fuel." SENER is in charge of the guidance, navigation, and control of the vehicle; a launch is planned within the next few years.
One small company in northern Spain, Advanced Dynamic Systems (ADS), has focused its research on what are known as satellite orbit control actuators. These systems can turn the satellite around to orient the satellite for a given task, such as aiming a camera in a specific direction. ADS is working on control moment gyros, which provide agility and fast movement for observation satellites. There are only a handful of companies in the world developing these systems. "Our project is based on existing technology," says Jorge Serra, director of business development for ADS, "but with an innovative approach that provides better performance than what is in use today, and with about half of the weight and volume of current systems."
The idea came about when an engineer, one of the company's founders, visited a museum exhibit that featured gyros. "He started considering the principles of kinetic momentum and torque, and he started thinking of how to get a better performance from a gyro, then he invited two professors to join him," says Serra. This led to the current company's focus. Serra continues, "Our approach involves combining the basic configuration of elements necessary with changes that are relatively minor, but in the end these changes provide us with two or three times the existing capability."
The product has been under development for two years and may be tested with the Microsat satellite program of INTA, the Spanish space agency, on a satellite that will go into orbit in another two or three years.
Spain will also be launching the first satellite made almost entirely by Spanish companies. In the Spanish newspaper El País, Joan Trullén, secretary general of industry and president of the publicly funded Center for Industrial Technological Development, is quoted as saying, "This isn't only a symbol, or a signal to the international community of Spain's capability. Rather, it's a magnificent example of the best Spanish technology."