Florida and Spain launch joint agreement for small-satellite research

Published: October 13 2011

Category:Astronomy, Business, Economic Impact, Florida, Research

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida has helped to forge a deal between the Kingdom of Spain and the state of Florida initiating the groundwork for collaborative research that could boost the state’s aerospace industry.

A team from UF’s Department of Astronomy initiated the arrangement that creates a collaborative research initiative between scientists in Spain and Florida working in small satellite technology, agriculture biotechnology, and the science of aging. Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and Cristina Garmendia, Spain’s minister of science and innovation, will sign an official agreement to launch the project Friday in Madrid. Win Phillips, UF senior vice president and chief operating officer, also will attend.

“Spain and Florida have a great deal in common,” said Rafael Guzman, astronomy department chairman at UF. “Both of their economies are based on tourism and agriculture, they have similar population demographics and they have a common interest in space exploration.”

Better science can improve agriculture and medicine, but science also can create jobs, Guzman said. The third leg of the collaboration between Spain and Florida, small-satellite research, has the most obvious potential for creating jobs and a new source of wealth for players on both sides of the Atlantic.

The UF astronomy department initially became interested in collaborating with Spain because of its small-satellite program. As the relationship grew between the two, it became clear that there were other possibilities for partnering.

“Spain has had a successful program that has built and flown small satellites for years,” said Peggy Evanich, a former NASA programs manager who now works with UF’s astronomy department to build relationships between the university and industry leaders. “But they don’t have their own launch facilities.” They were using facilities in Russia and France, she said.

Small satellites range in size from 4 inches to 3 feet cubed and have huge potential for commercial applications, Guzman said.

“You could use small satellites equipped with telescopes to monitor crops for diseases like citrus canker and stop a contamination before it destroys a whole grove,” he said.

UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, will lead efforts from this side of the Atlantic to find new technology to help growers. A similar agency in Spain will drive parallel efforts, creating opportunities for joint studies, new sources of funding and fresh perspectives on common challenges.

UF’s Institute on Aging will similarly join with a sister organization in Spain to push their field of research forward.

Last month, in anticipation of the collaboration with Spain, UF signed a separate agreement with NASA that secures the Kennedy Space Center’s technical and logistical help integrating UF experimental payloads with Spain’s small satellites. The university is cutting cost by launching their satellites as piggyback cargo on spacecraft chartered by other entities, such as the Department of Defense.

The first launch in support of the research collaboration could happen as early as February 2012, Guzman said.

“This is an exciting time as the state of Florida and Spain chart out new economic and scientific opportunities together,” Carroll said. “It’s a great new chapter in the rich history of discovery we share.”

Space Florida, a state agency charged with fostering growth of the aerospace industry in Florida, is beginning a collaboration with Spain this week as well. Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, signed an agreement today with INTA, Spain’s space agency, to establish a joint venture commercial business in Florida that builds, markets and launches small satellites.

The current agreement begins the planning process for the future commercial venture that will be based near the Kennedy Space Center.

For UF’s astronomers, the collaboration with Spain offers unprecedented access to the heavens that could result in discoveries that mean recognition and prestige for the university. But Guzman said that isn’t the end game.

“We believe popular predictions that small satellites will account for much of the $250 billion annual space industry by the end of the decade,” he said. With Spain’s experience in that niche, and Florida’s cache of talent and resources to develop the package fully, Guzman said, the collaboration seems a natural winner.


Donna Hesterman, donna.hesterman@ufl.edu, 352-846-2573
Rafael Guzman, guzman@astro.ufl.edu

Category:Astronomy, Business, Economic Impact, Florida, Research