Four major Spanish multinationals and an even bigger goal: to revolutionize aerospace engineering from software
Four multinationals are striving to redefine space from satellites with their reconfigurable antennas, star detectors, huge data, and artificial intelligence to alleviate hunger in Africa, highly accurate images at more than 35,000 kilometers altitude or geolocation systems of self-driving cars.
It seems incredible that this is happening in Spain where, according to so many, we are unable to innovate on a large scale, no engineer would want to live with common sense and there is a lack of major breakthrough companies in high-value-added sectors.
But beneath the surface of those clumsy brushstrokes, it may surprise more than one to discover that there are leading Spanish companies in digital space innovation and well nurtured by the talent and ideas of hundreds of Spanish engineers working from here for organizations such as NASA. and the European Space Agency. And they are multinationals with dozens of projects behind them, not small startups that have everything to prove.
GMV, for example, dedicates a workforce of more than “350 people considering navigation and earth observation applications to the digitization of satellites, with an annual turnover of approximately EUR 35 million”. One of the specialties of this multinational’s space division is the exploitation of constellations of satellites to geolocate thousands of vehicles around the world, including planes, trains, and ships.
Miguel Ángel Molina, GMV’s Commercial Director for Aerospace, recalls in this regard that they have just launched a high-precision satellite positioning solution to enhance the capabilities of BMW’s new autonomous cars. Avoiding an accident or a handlebar is sometimes a matter of centimeters. Molina also highlights other projects such as Africultures and EO4SD Climate Resilience.
Africultures uses sensors to capture trillions of data on African agriculture and convert it into easily accessible knowledge (maps, charts, etc.) so that governments can make real-time decisions about food security and sustainability. EO4SD Climate Resilience, led by GMV, collects and structures the information it obtains through Earth observation to help improve infrastructure and planning against the tilt of climate change.
Antonio Gutiérrez, director of the country segment of Elecnor Deimos, assures that “the business unit that works across the satellite data value chain employs approximately 80-90 people, has an annual turnover of almost nine million euros and an investment can be made through the European Horizon 2020, for example. program with other collaborating companies or co-financed projects) of approximately two or three times that value ”.
One of the projects led by Elecnor Deimos, he continues, is NextGEOSS. And it consists of “promoting centralized access to the whole ecosystem of European Earth observation data with the aim of enabling thousands of entrepreneurs to develop their own applications with them.” NextGEOSS is funded by the European Commission.
Store4EO is another project of Elecnor Deimos, in this case, supported by the European Space Agency. And here we speak, says the manager, of a “marketplace for microservices connecting suppliers of Earth observation applications with customers”. One of the specific aspects of this activity, he warns, “is the traceability of the intellectual property of the data and services we manage with Blockchain technologies.”
Regarding products for institutions and businesses, in particular, Gutiérrez emphasizes “identity4EO, which centralizes authentication, authorization and accounting technologies for access to services (and which we currently provide, for example, to the European Space Agency); KORE, which supports precision farming by merging different types of satellite imagery with drones and models; or SIMOcean, a system to access previously disconnected hydrographic data sources [seas, rivers, oceans, etc.] in Portugal ”.
Meanwhile, Sener Madrid leads Flight on Chip, a regional consortium of companies and research centers promoted by the Community of Madrid. According to Diego Rodríguez, Director of Space at Sener Aeroespacial, the consortium has two goals.
The first, he clarifies, is to produce “smaller and cheaper space satellites. very high technical requirements can start with this. ”In both cases, the Madrid project aims to ‘democratize’ space services.
Sener, his manager warns, has participated in other initiatives such as “the Earth observation satellites SMOS or BIOMASS, promoted by the European Space Agency to observe the evolution of the seas and forests”.
And they have also developed, for example, a scanner with which the satellite can take a photo with the highest precision at a distance of 36,000 kilometers. They did this in the context of the Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellites of the European Space Agency and EUMETSAT, the European consortium for the exploitation of meteorological satellites.
CRISA is a company controlled by Airbus Defense and Space. We consider it Spanish in this report because it was established here in 1985 (in fact the initials respond to the name ‘Computadoras, Redes e Ingeniería SAU’), the only headquarters are located in Tres Cantos (Madrid) and the management team is Spanish. In addition, Airbus is a European consortium that is also listed on the Madrid stock exchange and Spain is the third European state with the most shares after France and Germany.
Fernando Sanz, technical manager of CRISA, assures that “more than 50 of the company’s professionals work directly or indirectly in digital units” and that they “spend 2.5 million euros per year on projects related to digitization”. They have been digitizing video and motor control signals, weather signals, and, more recently, even the antennas themselves for years.
According to Sanz, some of his units are able to digitize the radar signal reflected off the ocean surface and use it to measure wind speed. They also digitized GAIA’s video signal, a probe responsible for measuring the brightness of stars and their own movements. Thanks to that, he explains, “it is possible to detect where there is a star and where there is only noise”.
Right now, he continues, they are “working on what will become the jewel in the crown: making the antenna itself as digital as possible.” And this is of great importance to businesses, according to Sanz, because it allows “to dynamically change the services and coverage offered by the antennas without the need for more satellites, more antennas, or fuel to reposition the satellite.”
CRISA has already taken an important step in that direction by digitizing the antenna control. That is, the designs allow you to instantly and digitally change where your signals point (for example, ships at sea and airplanes in flight), increase their power, and increase or decrease their frequency and bandwidth.
Digitize your production (or die)
Digitizing and automating the production of satellites is extremely complex, as they are often practically unique devices, very expensive, and with diabolical technical requirements.
However, all this is changing little by little thanks to the ‘democratization of space, which is led to the design and use of smaller, simpler and cheaper satellites that form constellations (the Spanish SatelioT does and promotes the Sener in Madrid Flight on Chip) or the failure of the cheap launch (the Spanish PLD Space makes reusable rockets to propel satellites).
This ‘democratization’ is also fueled by the new ability to reconfigure satellites and their equipment rather than having to replace or supplement them with others (in line with what CRISA is proposing with its new antennas). At the same time, it also helps that more and more companies are accessing space services through initiatives such as that of Elecnor Deimos with its marketplace or GMV with the adaptation of its geolocation offering to the autonomous BMW car.
MBS and Dynamos: When All Roads Lead to Cyberspace
Diego Rodríguez, Director of Space at Sener Aeroespacial, is committed to digitizing production with “projects supported by a virtual working methodology, through design, engineering and production control programs related to concepts such as the digital twin. ” This methodology, called MBSE or Model-Based Systems Engineering, facilitates the “digitization of products and processes, as well as the connectivity of simulation tools”.
Raúl Conde is committed to innovation and digital transformation in the field of Operations of CRISA. And they have started to digitize production through the Dynamos platform. With this, he explains: “We collect and integrate all relevant data for the production area so that every user gets the information he needs.” In this sense, they have come to “create a digital twin of the entire plant that allows production processes to be monitored, managed and controlled”.
Dynamos also offers them, according to Conde, “a 3D manufacturing system, which indicates to operators which activities must be performed and which implies an improvement of the execution methods”. At the same time, it serves to digitally link “the needs of our projects to the availability of production” and to “ensure the digital continuity of data from product origin to final delivery”.
The digitization of production is no small detail in the digitization of the satellites in battle. According to the director of CRISA, “this means even lower costs for satellites and a much shorter time-to-market than normal while maintaining a very high quality.” A commercial customer continues, “can’t wait [as until now] five or five. Six years to put a satellite into orbit because the business opportunity he was trying to exploit no longer exists and the technology that is available. he was going to use is outdated ”.
In other words, companies are risking their survival with digital transformation. They cannot fail.