Portugal mulls Atlantic-focused constellation

Space

BREMEN, Germany — Portugal’s newly created space agency is considering a national constellation focused on maritime activity in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Luís Serina, the Portuguese Space Agency’s industrial relations and projects officer, said Portugal, as a coastal nation, is concerned about illegal fishing, maritime piracy and ocean pollution, among other topics. 

“We are putting some efforts in developing national satellites, open to international collaboration, that will lead to an Atlantic constellation to deal with some of the challenges of the Atlantic and the oceans in general,” Serina said Nov. 19 at the Space Tech Expo Europe conference here. 

Serina, when asked by SpaceNews about the nature of the constellation, said it is still in a “definition phase” where details such as what sensors it will carry and who will build it are being determined. 

“This is a clear intention politically driven by the government to have this constellation,” he said. “We are now in discussions with stakeholders and companies and users try to set up the best requirements to complement [existing capabilities].” 

Portugal established its space agency in March, and tasked it with implementing the “Portugal Space 2030” strategy. Serina said that Portugal, through its space strategy, wants to create 1,000 new jobs and increase the size of its space sector tenfold. 

“The main theme is related to the Atlantic,” he said. “We want to be an authority in the Atlantic in terms of space, climate and ocean interactions.”

Serina said Portugal is putting a lot of resources into developing “downstream” space applications that make use of data collected from satellites. 

Portugal is also close to selecting a consortium to spearhead a spaceport program in the country’s Azores archipelago, an autonomous region located more than 1,500 kilometers off the mainland Portuguese coastline. 

Serina said the agency is running a competition between three consortia, and expects to choose one early next year. The winner will be responsible for setting up the spaceport and outfitting it with a small launch vehicle, he said. 

Serina said Azores is well suited as a launch site for small satellites headed to sun-synchronous orbit — a popular destination for Earth observation satellites. The Portuguese Space Agency is also working with the European Space Agency on optimizing Azores as a landing zone for Space Rider, an unmanned spaceplane ESA is developing, by 2022. 

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