What does the Catalan Space Agency do?
Catalonia will have a constellation of up to six satellites in space, with a public investment of 18 million euros over four years. The project involves 30 emerging companies and several research centres.
Until very recently, only state space agencies and rich countries could put satellites into orbit. As sending satellites into space is weight-based (literally) and the satellites can weigh tons, it was very difficult to have access to them. Catalonia is committed to the NewSpace strategy.
NewSpace or SpaceIndustry 4.0 transforms the ideas and methods known until recently in the conquest of space, the technologies that allow it, and the businesses that can be derived from it.
It departs from the models promoted by government space agencies in at least five key respects. First, NewSpace arises driven by private initiative and emerging business potential. Second, it proposes a relaxation of the design and construction procedures of space widgets. Third, it seeks a reduction in development time. Fourth, it takes advantage of new technologies. Fifth, as a result of the above, it achieves a drastic decrease in the costs of the development cycle.
Everything this makes NewSpace become, in some respects, a serious competitor of the traditional spatial strategy: OldSpace. This new technological paradigm shift will have commercial and industrial implications that will go far beyond the aerospace sector itself.
In January 2021, the Government gave the green light to the preliminary report of the Draft Law on the Creation of the Space Agency of Catalonia. The Agency, as a key element of the NewSpace strategy, will implement the national economic development policy in this area and will be the reference entity for public and private agents in everything related to the space sector in the country.
Nanosatellites weigh little (up to 10 kg), orbit in space at low altitudes — which allows more protection against cosmic and solar radiation, and require much less energy to transmit data compared to conventional satellites — and they have a lifespan of four years, until gravity attracts them, and they fall to Earth. They are built by assembling CubeSats, unitary elements with a volume of 10 cubic cm (slightly more than a Rubik’s cube) and an approximate weight of 1 kg.
Unlike large traditional satellites, they are not geostationary, so in order to be efficient, they need to operate in a “constellation” or network, so that there are always some that can offer coverage due to their position.
The function of these AEC nanosatellites will be to increase 5G coverage for the Internet of Things (IoT), terrestrial observation, the Generalitat’s own services, or, for example, fire control and rescue in natural spaces and isolated areas.
The first satellite, Enxaneta — a nanosatellite the size of a shoebox and weighing 10 kilograms — was launched into space aboard a Soyuz rocket on March 22, 2021, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Enxaneta orbits the Earth every hour and a half, in a polar orbit, that is, in the direction of the Earth’s meridians, at an altitude of only 500 kilometres, and flies over Catalonia twice a day.
The Enxaneta in particular, which consists of 3 CubeSats, will deploy global connectivity services of the Internet of Things, allowing: the communication and obtaining of data from sensors located throughout Catalonia, even in areas that are difficult to access or that do not have coverage; monitor the flow of rivers and water reserves, and of wildlife in order to protect it; receive weather data from stations in remote locations; monitor herds and crops in order to detect diseases, and define more efficient strategies.
Today, the NewSpace ecosystem in Catalonia is made up of 30 emerging companies, some of which, such as Sateliot, OpenCosmos, Pangea, or Zero2Infinity, world leaders in the nanosatellite sector, have grown driven by many years of cooperation in projects, studies, and space missions with the European Space Agency (ESA).
But, in addition, in Catalonia we also have 13 R&D centres, of which UPC Nanosat Lab and the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) stand out, as well as one of the European Space Agency’s business incubation centres, ESA BIC Barcelona, based in Castelldefels.
Finally, and in collaboration with IEEC, UPC Nanosat Lab has developed the ground satellite monitoring and control station located in IEEC’s Montsec Astronomical Observatory (OAdM).
Uses of Catalonia’s NewSpace strategy nanosatellites
- Geographical, geological, and meteorological analysis
- Agriculture and aquaculture
- Security and emergencies
- Telecommunications and the audiovisual sector
- Transport and logistics
- Environment, energy, and water
- Smart cities
What is to come
According to the Government, 1,200 new high value-added jobs and a turnover of around 280 million euros will be generated by 2025. Six nanosatellites will take off before 2023, with a total budget of 18 million euros.
The Lleida-Alguaire Airport will host a spaceport dedicated to suborbital flight missions, as well as a propulsion test centre for rocket-launchers (the second in Europe), and a business park and training centre for technology companies linked to space.