Spain launches space agency in big boost for local startups

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Spain has officially launched its own national space agency, at a time when Europe looks to establish itself as a global space industry leader.

Plans for the Spanish Space Agency, or Agencia Espacial Española (AEE), were first announced in May 2021, and finally got the political thumbs up last month.

The agency will be based in Seville, near the Arenosillo launch facility in Huelva, which was built in the 60s as part of a collaboration between the Spanish government and NASA. Initially, around 75 personnel will be based at the site. 

The agency will serve to “guarantee Spain’s strategic action in the field of space, both from the point of view of its technological development and the use of space in areas such as security, Earth observation, geolocation, and telecommunications,” according to a statement from Spain’s Ministry of Science and Innovation. 

“Space is a priority and strategic area, essential to help and protect our society in fields as diverse as cybersecurity, navigation, the fight against climate change, or the monitoring of phenomena such as drought or fires,” the statement continued. 

Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, has allocated the new agency an initial budget of more than €700m in 2023. 

The minister has also made 45m available to fund the development of a domestic microlauncher. This class of launch vehicle, Morant said, is “the commercial future of the space sector.” 

Currently, the most likely contender to receive the funding is PLD Space. Founded in 2011, the Spanish startup has developed a suborbital microlauncher, named Miura 1, that will be capable of delivering commercial payloads to space and back. It is set to launch as early as this month.

Spain has a long history in the space industry. It is one of the founding members of the European Space Agency (ESA) and has a thriving spacetech ecosystem. As of 2019, 12% of the total 400+ investors in the global private space industry — dubbed ‘new space’ — were based in Spain.

In addition to frontrunners PLD Space, startups to watch include Barcelona-based Zero 2 Infinity, which has developed a balloon-borne launcher, Madrid-based ienai GO, a space industry software provider, and Bilbao-based SATLANTIS, which is developing AI-enabled payloads for microsatellites. 

The launch of the Spanish Space Agency is undoubtedly a major boost to these startups and the country’s spacetech industry as a whole, and comes as Europe looks to catch up with the US, Russia, and China in the global space race.