Despite being a founding member and one of the largest contributors to the European Space Agency (ESA), Spain currently does not have a national space agency. This is, however, about to change, and with the help of Leonardo López, a space lawyer and economist, and a member of the Spanish Air and Space Legal Society, I took a look at the country’s progress.
The first signs that Spain was serious about creating a national space agency were revealed in the 2021 National Security Strategy, published on 31 December 2021.
“The creation of a Spanish Space Agency will contribute to organizing the competencies and establishing a national policy that serves as a guide, both to the public and private sectors.”
In February 2022, this proposal became part of a suite of amendments to the Science, Technology, and Innovation Law which was first introduced in 2011.
“The reform of the law also proposes the creation of the Spanish Space Agency, with a component dedicated to national security, to direct the effort in space matters, efficiently coordinate the different national organizations with responsibilities in the space sector and unify collaboration and international coordination.”
According to López, if all goes well, the amendments to Science, Technology, and Innovation Law will be passed by Congress in late May or June 2022.
Once this happens, the undertaking will begin with the aim of creating the agency within a year. This process will integrate functions that are currently distributed within different entities and ministerial spheres in order to unify Spain’s representation in the sector. It will also endeavor to create a legal framework capable of managing the country’s burgeoning launch industry.
Currently, the only piece of legislation governing launch activities from Spain is the Royal Decree of 1995. This decree regulates the Register of Space Objects established in November 1974 by the UN General Assembly. There is no legislation that outlines which government agency or authority would issue a launch license, a phenomenon not unique to Spain.
PLD Space is currently working towards launching its suborbital Miura 1 launch vehicle from El Arenosillo on Spanish soil this year. The launch facility is located on the southwest coast of Spain and is owned and operated by the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA). The launch will also involve other key public stakeholders, including the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology, CDTI, INTA, and the Spanish military.
According to López, in compliance with the outer space treaty, the involvement of these key public stakeholders puts PLD Space in a unique position of not needing to wait for a launch license, and therefore a space law, to conduct this initial test flight. However, if Spain is to transform El Arenosillo into a European spaceport and foster its burgeoning newspace industry, the country’s push to create a legal framework to allow for this growth will be important.