A challenge to the national ecosystem

Space sustainability is one of our biggest challenges. And Portugal wants to be part of the solution.

Once we realize that we currently have millions of space debris objects ranging from 1 milimeter to full rocket bodies and defunct satellites orbiting our planet, from which only a bit more than 31.000 are tracked by surveillance networks, we understand we have a problem at hand.  

Since the start of the space age, a lot has evolved, and nowadays, we rely on space even in the simplest tasks of our daily life, either by simply checking the weather when leaving home or by using a navigation system to reach our destination. But all of this is at risk. Earth’s orbital environment is a finite resource and the increasing density of in-orbit objects and consequently, the likelihood of collisions potentiates the inoperability of space for future generations. 

With the appearance of private companies able to drastically lower the prices of launches and commercial operators fuelled by the miniaturization of space systems and the deployment of large constellations, the space sustainability topic has gained the proper traction, with international and governmental bodies promoting honest discussions and taking actions.  

Space sustainability is one of our biggest challenges. Portugal wants to be part of the solution, not only through the active participation in the global discussions on Space Traffic Management, in raising awareness for this problem but also by building capacity and developing state of the art technology.  

In November 2008, Portugal joined the optional Space Situational Awareness programme from the European Space Agency, reiterating its interest in this area in November 2019 by subscribing to the new Space Safety Programme. Since then, Portugal has been involved in several space debris-related activities and missions, with one of our most significant and most important participations ever in ESA being the ClearSpace-1 (CS-1) mission.  

The CS-1 is an active debris removal mission aiming at removing large debris from orbit. With Deimos Engenharia and Critical Software leading the Guidance, Navigation and Control system and the On-Board Flight Software, respectively, Portugal has a major role, putting us at the forefront of the in-orbit servicing technological developments.  

Also developing state of the art technology, this time in the collision avoidance area, is Neuraspace, established only two years ago, but aiming at revolutionizing space, fighting space debris with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. By providing Space Traffic Management solutions, Neuraspace will predict collisions and manoeuvre satellites, lowering the number of collisions in space and consequently preventing the increase of space debris objects orbiting our home planet.  

The time to act is now. The Portuguese Space Agency is committed to having a sustainable role in space, supporting ESA’s zero debris policy, a global Space Traffic Management approach, and enhancing Portugal’s space debris surveillance and tracking and in-orbit servicing capabilities. 

Inês D'Ávila
6 of June, 2022
About the author

With a Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering (Instituto Superior Técnico, 2019), her passion for Space and Aeronautical worlds led her to participate in various competitions during her academic journey. Motivated by the several volunteering activities in which participated always enjoyed helping the next one and hopes to keep on doing it in the future.
Passionate about challenges and seeing new projects coming to life embraced the foundation and leadership of the Técnico’s Aerospace Engineering Students Nucleus – AeroTéc, being its president during the first two years and having participated in the most diverse projects.
Inês always lived with her head turned to the stars, but now with her feet on the ground, begins her career at Portugal Space hoping to help it reaching as high as her dreams.