Portugal follows suit in creation of space agency

Portugal follows suit in creation of space agency

Max Blenkin

Australia was late in establishing a domestic space agency but certainly not the last to take this important step in establishing a national space industry.

Portugal has now formed what it calls Portugal Space, with the aim of launching small satellites from its territory by 2021.

Portugal’s new space agency will be based at Ponta Delgada, capital of Portugal’s Azores archipelago, the country’s offshore island group in the North Atlantic.

The Azores island of Santa Maria is likely to be the location of the new Portuguese spaceport.

Portugal points to the geographical location of its proposed launch site 1,500 kilometres out in the Atlantic as a key advantage for its space business.

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Launching east from the Azores to make maximum use of the the Earth’s spin, rockets are in orbit before they overfly the European landmass.

Portugal seems to have followed a path not dissimilar to Australia. Like Australia, it’s already home to significant space-related infrastructure.

 

Santa Maria is the location of the European Space Agency (ESA) Hill of Flowers ground station, which tracks and monitors launches from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This is one of 10 stations that make up the European Space Tracking Estrack network.

Portugal has been a member state of the ESA since 2000 and the government agency, the Foundation for Science and Technology, has had a space program since 2009.

The decision to establish the Portuguese space agency flowed from a strategic report that examined priorities for the country’s approach to space.

Portugal Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education Manuel Heitor wrote in the report that the Azores has a particularly suitable geo-strategic position for space infrastructure for launching satellites.

With ocean in every direction, Santa Maria offered “absolutely unique advantages” for the promotion and development of new satellite launch services, he wrote.

Along with plans for the new spaceport, Portugal Space also plans to build rockets to launch from the facility.

It’s considering allowing private companies like Virgin Galactic and Sierra Nevada to use the spaceport for launches, including for space tourism.

Australia formed the Australian Space Agency late last year. That followed an inquiry, which found that an over-arching organisation was essential for development of the Australian space industry. A number of companies are proposing to conduct satellite launches.

Australia’s formation of a national space agency last July was followed by Turkey in December and now by Portugal.

More than 70 nations now have their own space agencies but just over a dozen possess the capability to build and launch rockets. That’s expected to change dramatically in the next few years.

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