Spain cancels ‘spy’ satellite launch contract with Russian company

Conflict in Ukraine, EU sanctions and Kremlin have created 18-month delay

Miguel González
Artist's impression of Spain's PAZ satellite.
Artist's impression of Spain's PAZ satellite.EL PAÍS

After an eighteen-month delay and convinced that Russia’s President Putin isn’t going to give the green light it needs, Spain’s Hisdesat – a joint venture between satellite company Hispasat and the Defense Ministry – has decided to cancel its contract with Russia’s Cosmotrans to launch Paz, a new military Earth radar observation satellite, say sector sources.

Hisdesat will reportedly look for an out-of-court solution to recover the €15 million it has so far paid Cosmotrans, and is already looking for an alternative company to launch Paz, which could also be Russian. It is also scouting US companies, which would likely be a more costly solution.

The Paz satellite is intended to perform global observation to assist multiple military and civil applications including rescue, maritime surveillance, tactical support, border control, natural disaster management, environmental control, risk management, and counter-piracy actions.

Paz is the first Earth radar observation satellite in Spain, and is part of the Spanish National Earth Observation Program

It is intended to be placed in sun-synchronous dawn-dusk orbit at an altitude of 514km, and will operate with a velocity of 25,200km/h. It can provide images under all-weather conditions during day and night of surface-based activities, and can perform high-resolution mapping of a large geographical area. It can store up to 256GB of images and supply more than 100 images a day. Its normal revisit period is 11 days, and on-orbit mission duration is five-and-a-half years.

Paz was earlier known as the Satélite Español de Observación SAR (SEOSAR) observation satellite. Its production and integration process was completed in Madrid in September 2013, while the launch was scheduled for the first quarter of 2015.

But the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which prompted the EU to impose sanctions on Moscow, has stymied the launch of Spain’s first spy satellite.

Sector sources say that Spain will now have to choose between Russia’s state-owned Roscosmos, which uses the Soyuz rocket, or US outfit SpaceX, which uses Falcon rockets to launch satellites from its base in California. They add that Hisdesat will likely prefer the US option. Either way, the cost will be four times that of using Cosmotrans.

Paz is the first Earth radar observation satellite in Spain, and is part of the Spanish National Earth Observation Program (PNOTS), which is owned by the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Hisdesat, a government satellite services operator, signed a contract with Airbus Defence and Space for the development and construction of Paz in November 2008.

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The total cost of the satellite’s design, development, flight and ground segments, and launch is estimated to be €160m ($180m) of which, €135m ($152m) will be funded by the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the remaining by Hisdesat.

As the prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space is responsible for the development, construction, systems engineering, integration, testing, validation and location of the satellite into orbit. The synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensor was designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space at its Madrid-Barajas site. The Paz program also involved participation by 18 Spanish companies.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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