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A bay on the island of Santa Maria - the proposed site for a future spaceport

The Azores might host a Europe-based spaceport

The Azores might host a Europe-based spaceport

The launch of the public tender, however, gets postponed due to a lack of studies and clear regulation

Portugal created its own Space Agency a mere two years ago with ambitious plans to introduce the space economy into the fold of the productive activities that bring national value. Right from the bat, the agency has drawn up ambitious plans, chief among them – the establishment of a satellite launching spaceport on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores.

Bureaucracy and environmental concerns, however, have risen since then to hamper twice the initial public tender for the construction of such a spaceport. Most recently, it was the Portugal Greens Party (Os Verdes) who have expressed displeasure about the idea.

Space economy development

Europe already has a large rocket-launch spaceport, located in French Guiana – a French overseas territory that is geographically in South America, however.

Hugo Costa, a member of the Board of Directors at the Portuguese Space Agency had said that Europe has at least two main big launchers and a spaceport but that a gap in medium launchers was evident.

Medium launchers would also need infrastructure and spaceports to launch rockets to space and “if we increase the number of spaceports that are available to Europe, this will again improve the European independent access to space,” he added.

With a turnover of about 890 million euros between 2006 and 2015 directly related to space technologies, Portugal is keen to step-up efforts and raise the ambition of developing and promoting the space infrastructures of the future, said its space agency in a report.

Santa Maria is part of the Azores Archipelago, an autonomous insular region located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The island had already been hosting antennas of the European Space Agency, so it seems like a logical choice for the establishment of a spaceport there, as well.

The regional government sees this as an opportunity for a significant catalyst in the development of the regional economy, which is primarily based on agriculture and tourism.

Initially, the contract for the installation and operation of the Santa Maria spaceport was expected to be signed in June 2019, so that the first launches of small satellites would take place in the summer of 2021. Due to the regulation disagreements about the nature of the first tender and the change of the administrations in the meantime, both proposals were rejected.

"We hope that the launch of the competition can take place by the end of the year, but that will depend on how long the studies take to be done," stressed Susete Amaro, the Regional Secretary of Culture, Science and Digital Transition, as quoted by Noticias Ao Minuto. She was referring to the environmental and economic-financial impact assessments that, she said, should also have been taken care of in the first tender that ended up with the exclusion of the two competing proposals.

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