Satellite data for decision-making

The manufacture, launch and management of satellite systems is the core activity of the space industry. The barriers to entry into the aerospace industry are lower, the technology more advanced and societies' need for knowledge greater than ever. A synthetic view of space markets offers four main activities: human spaceflight, homeland security, satellite communications, and image and data analysis.

"If you look from space you see Spain, of course, but you don't see borders...", says Johann-Dietrich Wörner, managing director of the European Space Agency (ESA), whose exploration, observation and research programmes already cover a very wide range of space activities from its position as a public body belonging to the European Union, with member countries contributing to the different programmes according to their own decisions. And it is certainly a good investment. According to ESA, every euro invested in space technology returns an average of 6 euros to the global economy, with a cross-cutting impact on all industrial sectors and on our society.

Institutional space activity is now joined by 'New Space', private initiatives that see opportunities, with their own developments, to take advantage of the business possibilities of space. A business that, today, is mainly based in the field of telecommunications, but which is also emerging with new perspectives in many other sectors such as earth observation or small launchers.

The New Space philosophy is speed of execution and cost savings. If a launch fails, if a satellite is lost, it is replaced immediately. That's why everything has to be cheap. A 'low cost' without astronauts involved.

Large private satellite constellations will multiply in the coming years. Megaconstellations range from 800 to 12,000 satellites, offering high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity in sparsely populated areas where, due to costs, it does not make sense to wait for terrestrial fibre-optic connectivity.

This global access to quality internet will facilitate access to education and digital transformation in all business sectors. For example, precision agriculture, which already uses climate, weather, water and other satellite-supplied data, will be able to incorporate real-time sensors anywhere in the world into its crops with the availability of fast connectivity. The availability of this degree of connectivity can influence a redefinition of population distribution.

In addition to this great commercial satellite boom emerging with 'New Space', Europe already has two satellite infrastructures that offer another area of development and great business opportunities right now: the Galileo and Copernicus of the European Union.

The Galileo constellation, operational since December 2016 and scheduled to be fully operational in 2021, is the European Union's own satellite navigation system with global coverage of the planet. It is the first European-wide public infrastructure, not only space-based, originated and created directly by the Union.

An infrastructure that, unlike the American GPS, Russia's Glonass and China's Beidou, is civilian and controlled by civilian authorities. The other three major positioning systems are military, with dual use for civilian purposes, and controlled by the military.

Galileo is a system designed to last in the long term, tens of years, which provides stability and prospects for investments in its ecosystem. When operational, 100% will offer four types of functionalities through its 10 complementary signals: free, open services, available for navigator positioning and all the uses that can be developed; public regulated service (PRS), with encrypted signals and controlled access for government use, including emergency, security and defence services; rescue services, for search and rescue of people in distress; and air safety, already available for civil aviation with GPS through EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service), which is expected to incorporate Galileo in the mid-2020s.

Galileo has two other important 'differentiators' with respect to GPS: the availability very soon of an open and free high-precision service, with resolutions in the order of 20 centimetres; and an open and commercial signal authentication service, allowing robust and much more secure positioning than GPS.

These two new services will be major enablers of digital transformation in such strategic industries as those associated with the Internet of Things, the automotive sector (including automated vehicle guidance), smart cities and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones or UAVs).

Galileo is a very important vector for the economy. Current estimates by the European Commission conclude that 10% of European GDP depends on the availability of satellite positioning services. As for the current and immediate use of Galileo, some 40,000 different applications have already been identified, affecting all sectors of the economy: tourism, transport, mobility, energy, environment, agriculture, telecommunications... All of these are strategic sectors in our country.

More than 95% of existing mobile phones now include satellite navigation, and for the last two years, all major manufacturers have been incorporating the European system in their handsets, reaching the figure of 1 billion Galileo-enabled mobile phones by September 2019, in just 34 months since the start of operations.

The other European institutional pillar in the field of space applications is the Copernicus programme for Earth observation, which is currently the fastest growing field in the space industry. It represents one third of the operational satellites in orbit. A total of 25% of the European Space Agency's overall budget is devoted to Earth observation satellites.

Copernicus is based on the Sentinel satellites, of which seven have already been launched and dozens are expected in the coming decades. Sentinels are essential for monitoring climate change, enabling a global, continuous and fine-grained analysis of our planet in all its dimensions. At the same time, Copernicus is an extraordinary generator of new business opportunities. Providing several Terabytes of information per day, accessible free of charge, openly and in real time, Copernicus is the world's largest provider of satellite data. It is an extraordinary vein for the development of activities of the so-called new economy: wind measurements for the optimisation of wind farms; solar irradiation measurements for the generation of photovoltaic energy; analysis of sea currents for the optimisation of navigation routes... If data is considered by the economy to be the new oil, free oil is pouring down on Europe from space.

Spain's role

Spain is an important country in the space sector. It is the founding country of the European Space Agency and the fifth in total contribution to Europe's space sector. The Community of Madrid is one of the regions with the highest space activity in Europe (it accounts for 90% of Spanish space activity), with facilities in Robledo de Chavela (where Armstrong's message was heard fractions of a second earlier than in Houston), Villanueva de la Cañada (ESAC), Torrejón de Ardoz (several centres), San Martin de la Vega, Getafe, Arganda del Rey...

Spain is very well positioned to take advantage of the pull of space, and in particular the activities of Galileo, with companies heavily involved in its development and with key infrastructures. In Torrejón de Ardoz, integrated in the INTA facilities, is the European Service Centre of the Galileo programme, the GSC, which is the office that mediates between the user communities and the system. A key centre in the development of new applications. Jorge Potti, vice-president of the Space Commission of the association of Spanish aerospace companies and head of the area in GMV, a company that has won key contracts in the development of Galileo, says that "we must make progress in the development of national space programmes, within a national strategic plan, which allows the industry to make a leap in quality".

One of Galileo's two Galileo Security Monitoring Centres, the GSMC, is being installed in Madrid, having been relocated from the British town of Swanwick in the face of Brexit, thus avoiding a key facility being outside the European Union. In addition, the European Space Agency's Galileo science office is located at the ESAC centre and data is also stored in Spain.

As for Copernicus, the applications being developed are heavily subsidised and many EU Horizon 2020 programmes are considering the use of Copernicus data. The European Union's decision to make Copernicus data open and free of charge maximises scientific research and business opportunities.

Galileo and Copernicus fit perfectly with the new paradigms of globalisation and the importance of the data industry. They are a safe bet.