The new-generation Spainsat NG will include UHF capability in addition to X- and military Ka-band. Credit: Spanish Ministry of Defense

WASHINGTON— Spanish military satellite operator Hisdesat has contracted with Airbus Defence and Space and Thales Alenia Space to build two X-, UHF- and Ka-band military telecommunications satellites as part of a long-term commitment with the Spanish government.

Under the contract, announced May 6, Airbus and Thales Alenia Space have committed to providing substantial work for their Spanish subsidiaries, including the communications payloads for both satellites.

The Spanish subsidiary of Thales Alenia Space will build the UHF and military-X-band payloads. Airbus’s division in Spain will build the X-band payload.

The satellites’ communications modules will be integrated in Spain, while Airbus Defence and Space France will provide the two satellite platforms, both using the new Eurostar Neo bus developed with European and French government support.

Under the terms of its public-private partnership with the Spanish government, Hisdesat will be able to sell capacity that the Spanish military does not need. Credit: Spanish Ministry of Defense

Spain’s investment in the Spainsat NG program was many years in the making and ended up with a commitment of 1.617 billion euros ($1.8 billion) over an initial 15 years that could be extended to 19 years.

Hisdesat Servicios Estratégicos S.A. will take out loans for the program’s development — the two satellites and their launch, and the ground segment — and will be paid 93.17 million euros per year for 15 years by the Spanish Ministry of Defense.

The Spanish government is also financing some of the Spainsat NG work through the 22-nation European Space Agency (ESA), whose Govsatcom Space Component program is developing in parallel with the European Union‘s Govsatcom program.

Govsatcom starts with the use of existing space assets owned by individual EU nations and Hisdesat is counting on the European Union as a future customer for the excess Spainsat NG capacity.

The NATO alliance hopes to contract late this year for future satcom capability to succeed the current contract, which covered 2005-2019. The United States and several European nations want a piece of the contract. Credit: NATO Communications and Information Agency

The 29-nation NATO alliance is preparing to solicit bids for a 15-year satcom bandwidth procurement contract to follow on to the contract expiring in 2019.

The United States, Britain, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain are all seeking a piece of the NATO business, which Spain hopes to enter after the initial contracts are signed.  Among these nations, only Luxembourg and Spain were not involved in the NATO Satcom Post-2000 contract that went into effect in 2005.

The two Spainsat NG satellites will be built to NATO standards for anti-jamming, anti-spoofing and hardening to protect against a high-altitude nuclear explosion.

The first of the Spainsat NG satellites is scheduled for launch in 2023, in time to take over from two Hisdesat satellites launched in 2005 and 2006.

Spanish Defense Ministry officials have said the two satellites, Spainsat and Xtar-EUR, are nominally scheduled to be retired between 2021 and 2023, but that they had enough remaining fuel to remain in operations a bit longer.

Credit: Hisdesat

Hisdesat’s existing satellites were built with the assumption of substantial U.S. Defense Department business through Xtar LLC of the United States, which signed a take-or-pay contract with Hisdesat for capacity on the spacecraft. But that business never really materialized and the Hisdesat-Xtar story has not been a successful one.

Credit: Spanish Defense Ministry

What role Xtar will play in Spainsat NG is unclear. But the program’s success as a business will hinge on Hisdesat’s ability to find customers outside of Spain and beyond the EU Govsatcom program.