Hisdesat and Defence unveil the Spanish military satellite that holds the most secrets

Capable of withstanding the effects of nuclear explosions, Spainsat NG I will fly into space in November and NG II in June 2025  
El director de Operaciones y Programas de Hisdesat, Basilio Garrido, señala los trabajos de ajuste y verificación que Thales Alenia Space ultima en Tres Cantos en el Spainsat NG II - PHOTO/JPons 
Hisdesat's Director of Operations and Programmes, Basilio Garrido, points out the adjustment and verification work being completed by Thales Alenia Space in Tres Cantos on Spainsat NG II - PHOTO/JPons
  1. Protected against high-altitude nuclear explosions
  2. Spainsat NG I's final six months on the ground

Hisdesat has just unveiled for the first time the Spainsat New Generation, the new encrypted satellite communications system that the Spanish government services operator has developed for the Ministry of Defence.

The system will consist of twin Spainsat NG I and NG II digital technology satellites, the size of a minibus and weighing 6.1 tonnes, which will be placed in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres above the Earth. Both have been designed to provide more and better secure transmissions to the Spanish Armed Forces, NATO and allied and friendly countries.

The presentation of the satellite programme took place at the headquarters of Thales Alenia Space España in Tres Cantos (Madrid) and its protagonists were the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, and her Secretary of State, Amparo Valcarce. 

Cada Spainsat NG tiene el tamaño de un microbús y 6,1 toneladas de peso, y su módulo de comunicaciones, en imagen, embarca los equipos en las bandas X, Ka militar y UHF - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez
Each Spainsat NG is the size of a minibus and weighs 6.1 tonnes, and its communications module, pictured, carries equipment in the X, military Ka and UHF bands - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez

Both authorities have directly contemplated the huge communications module of the Spainsat NG II -the second example of the system-, and have been informed of its main features and benefits by the general director of Hisdesat, Miguel Ángel García Primo and by the president of the company, Admiral Santiago Bolíbar, for whom the Spanish satellite is among "the ten best in the world". 

García Primo emphasised to the minister that Spainsat NG is "the most advanced secure communications satellite in Europe", emphasised that it represents an "enormous technological leap" for the Spanish space industry, "by incorporating the latest generation technologies", and that it is going to be a "tool of the Ministry of Defence's international policy". 

La ministra de Defensa, Margarita Robles, ha sido informada de los trabajos que se desarrollan en Madrid, para hacer realidad la nueva generación de satélites gubernamentales españoles. A su espalda, el Spainsat NG II - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez
Defence Minister Margarita Robles has been briefed on the work being carried out in Madrid to make Spain's new generation of government satellites a reality. Behind her, the Spainsat NG II - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez

Protected against high-altitude nuclear explosions

What are the unique features that make the pair of Spanish spacecraft so special? Well, they are the first to have been developed to be geolocation and jamming resistant -antijamming-, protected against attempts to spoof their links -antispoofing- and shielded to prevent the disabling effects of the electromagnetic pulse caused by a high-altitude nuclear explosion. 

Which parts have been shielded from atomic explosions? Hisdesat's Director of Operations and Programmes, Basilio Garrido, replies: "This is confidential information, but I can say that everything that needs to be protected is protected," he says. What he does clarify is that the Spainsat NG II communications module in Thales Alenia Space's clean room is "about to conclude the assembly, adjustment and verification of the numerous hardware and transponders responsible for managing the X, military Ka and UHF bands installed on the satellite". 

Garrido stresses that this is a process of "great complexity, as we have to combine the three bands in the same structure, make them compatible and make them work correctly. It is a major challenge. He underlines the importance of the X-band, which is "based on two flat active antennas weighing just over a tonne, which are installed on top of the satellite".

José Antonio Álvarez de Arcaya, director general de Thales Alenia Space España, cuya gran sala limpia de más de 600 metros cuadrados fue inaugurada en julio de 2021 para dar cabida a los grandes Spainsat NG - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez
José Antonio Álvarez de Arcaya, CEO of Thales Alenia Space España, whose large clean room of more than 600 square metres was inaugurated in July 2021 to house the large Spainsat NG - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez

Made by Airbus Space Systems España at its factory in Madrid, the two flat antennas "allow us to concentrate the equivalent of 16 parabolic antennas in a very small space". In this way," Garrido adds, "there is free space for loading the rest of the larger antennas", which, together with their equipment, are the responsibility of Thales Alenia Space in Spain.  

For the transmission of large volumes of data, Ka-band is used, which consists of six classic parabolic antennas, "which can be moved and pointed anywhere on Earth". The two UHF antennas are of the greatest interest for air force links. They are very large, "especially the transmitting one, which is cone-shaped and more than 4 metres long," explains Garrido. 

Las comunicaciones de los dos Spainsat NG van a abarcar cerca de las dos terceras partes del planeta, toda Sudamérica, la mayoría de Estados Unidos, África, Europa, Oriente Medio y Asia, hasta Singapur - PHOTO/Hisdesat-Airbus DS
Communications from the two Spainsat NGs will cover nearly two-thirds of the planet, all of South America, most of the United States, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as far as Singapore - PHOTO/Hisdesat-Airbus DS

Spainsat NG I's final six months on the ground

With funding of 1.4 billion euros, for the Secretary of State, "the ambition we have put into the two satellites is great", which will cover "nearly two thirds of the planet": all of South America, most of the United States, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as far as Singapore. In terms of technology, the programme incorporates a research, development and innovation component "that should allow national industry to participate by more than 40 percent", says Valcarce.

Spainsat NG I is now fully completed in Toulouse, on the verge of completing the last stage of testing prior to its launch, which is scheduled for the end of November. As for NG II, it will leave Tres Cantos in a special convoy by road in the last days of May for the French city to complete the work and carry out the final tests. It is scheduled to be launched into orbit "in June 2025", the Secretary of State for Defence said.

Los sistemas de recepción móviles, embarcados y fijos son los componentes terrestre naval o aéreo que aportarán mayores y mejores transmisiones seguras a las Fuerzas Armadas españolas, la OTAN y países aliados y amigos - PHOTO/ET
The mobile, on-board and fixed reception systems are the naval or airborne ground components that will provide more and better secure transmissions to the Spanish Armed Forces, NATO and allied and friendly countries - PHOTO/ET

The official statement from the Ministry of Defence stresses that the Spainsat NG "is the first time that satellites of this size will be integrated in Spain". Defence confuses what is indeed materialised at Thales Alenia Space España in Tres Cantos, which is to complete the communications module with its technologies and those provided by Airbus Space Systems España. 

However, the complete integration or assembly of both satellites is not carried out in Spain. Specifically, it is the full responsibility of Airbus Space Systems France, in the aforementioned town of Toulouse. It is there that the communications modules for both satellites, which have been completed in Madrid, are shipped.

La secretaria de Estado de Defensa, Amparo Valcarce, ha confirmado que su departamento ha puesto mucha ambición en los dos satélites, que cuentan con una financiación de 1.400 millones de euros - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez
The Secretary of State for Defence, Amparo Valcarce, has confirmed that her department has put a lot of ambition into the two satellites, which have 1.4 billion euros in funding - PHOTO/MDE-Iñaki Gómez

On the other side of the Pyrenees, each satellite is fitted with its service module, which includes an advanced ion propulsion system, as well as the various antennas and the large solar panels. It is also in Toulouse that the final tests are being carried out, before each satellite is sent to the United States by air, to be launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral on Elon Musk's Falcon 9 launcher.