The head of the Science and Innovation portfolio, Diana Morant, has taken the frying pan by the handle and has assumed the leadership to create the Spanish Space Agency advocated by the National Security Strategy, approved on 28 December by the coalition government of President Pedro Sánchez. It is a viable alternative.
But the way in which the former mayoress of Gandía (Valencia) and minister for the past six months has announced that she is taking the helm has caused surprise, perplexity and even astonishment in much of the Spanish space community, which aspires to have an official institution with as little bureaucracy as possible and which consumes the minimum resources of the meagre national budget dedicated to space.
Diana Morant has been attributed with a "lack of tact", which has raised reactions, especially among those responsible for space affairs in the Ministry of Defence and other departments, industry and even the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA). Its directors were waiting to be summoned to the first meeting of an ad-hoc working group charged with defining the Agency's model by consensus, and now they have set alarm bells ringing.
The fact is that the minister has made a sort of sleight of hand and has arrogated to herself the power to authorise the birth of the national organisation that in the near future will be dedicated exclusively to exoatmospheric matters. And as a corollary, he proposes to place under the umbrella of his department - that is his proposal - the space creature that is still in its first weeks of gestation and nobody knows when it will be born.
Both measures are included in the preliminary draft of the new Law on Science, Technology and Innovation, a document that saw the light of day on 18 January and which has already been officially circulated to the different ministries of the Executive, so that they can make their observations, comments and allegations.
The text has also been made public in order to comply with the mandatory hearing and public information procedure and, in this way, to enable the participation of citizens and organisations in the sector. These include the Spanish Association of Defence, Security, Aeronautics and Space Technology Companies (TEDAE), chaired by Ricardo Martí Fluxá, and the Association of Companies Contracting with Public Administrations (AESMIDE), headed by Gerardo Sánchez Revenga.
The draft of the new law comes less than a month after the publication of the Royal Decree approving the National Security Strategy - one of the lines of action of which is to create the Spanish Space Agency - and confirms that the national space organisation will have the "character of a state agency". It also specifies that its aims will be to promote, execute and develop research and technology, innovate in the field of space and coordinate national space policy in the areas of security, earth observation, geo-localisation and communications.
It emphasises that such coordination will be "full" with the European Space Agency (ESA) and with EU space policies and programmes. It also establishes that it will allocate public resources "competitively and efficiently", that it will carry out the "monitoring and impact" of the actions it finances and that it will "advise" on the planning of the State Administration's R&D&I actions and policies.
The preliminary draft states that the Agency will be set up "without any increase in public expenditure", and that the statutes of the new institution must be approved by the government "within a maximum period of one year". In short, the initial draft of the aforementioned Law is evidence of the speed with which Minister Morant and her Secretary General for Innovation, Teresa Riesgo - inherited from the team of former Minister Pedro Duque - want to set up the new national organisation.
As outer space is a cross-cutting area, with companies, ministries and public and private institutions acting as driving forces, executing entities, users and beneficiaries of public funds, the executives consulted expressed a variety of opinions. Most of them are "disappointed" and consider that the spatial component of the pre-project "has not been sufficiently coordinated before seeing the light of day".
The sector's executives are speculating on whether or not Diana Morant's proposal has the approval of the other ministers with responsibility for space matters - Teresa Rivera (Ecological Transition), Margarita Robles (Defence), Raquel Sánchez (Transport) and Reyes Maroto (Industry) - and the initial approval of the President of the Government. Some understand that before making the draft public, its space part should have been dealt with in the Interministerial Commission for Industrial and Technological Space Policy, created in January 2015, which has been vegetative and has not been able to take action on the matter.
Others hoped that the Space Agency would "move up a step" in administrative rank. They hoped that space affairs would move from being the responsibility of five ministries to be placed under the aegis of the Presidency of the Government or, failing that, the Ministry of the Presidency. In this way, we wanted to "avoid the danger that, despite the existence of the Agency, some of the most influential ministers would follow their own opinion outside the general criteria", explains one of those consulted, who, like the others, declined to give their name or position.
There are also those who agree with Diana Morant's unilateral measure and with the content of the draft bill. The Ministry of Science and Innovation is the ministry that invests the most in space, around 550 million euros a year, "which represents more than 80% of what Spain spends on space", they say. It does so through the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), which is responsible for managing the Spanish budget in the European Space Agency (ESA) and the national presence in the European Union's space programmes.
All agree that we are in the early stages and that the big questions are on the table, including the way in which space issues with the Ministry of Defence's seal of secrecy will be linked to the new Agency. Without exception, they are in favour of setting up a model agency with a "global vision", with the "vocation and capacity" to manage national programmes, "but leaving aside ambitious projects of its own".
In essence, the idea is to give life to a "small" organisation of professionals, one of the first steps of which would be to define a National Space Plan, which Spain still lacks. The Spanish Space Agency has many challenges and obstacles ahead of it and the Government has a golden opportunity to get it right. Being within the Ministry of Science and Innovation is a reasonable alternative, but 'finezza' advises that some veteran agencies should not have been left out of Diana Morant's initiative. "The idea is to set up a Space Agency, not a CDTI 2," summarises one executive. And the whole sector knows this, especially the CDTI.