Portugal SPACE // Our Mission

Democratization of Space

Private actors are playing an increasingly important role in Space activities, taking a place that used to be occupied by states and leading us to the so-called New Space.

© ESA–Manuel Pedoussaut, 2015

Space has evolved from an arena only for technological prowess and sovereignty races, to one which sees an ever-increasing socio-economic benefit and a wide range of different private enterprises. Long gone are the days when a ticket to Space could only be paid for those with deep pockets and labs full of rocket scientists.

Space should be considered as a common good, to be associated with our institutions and collective ambitions, as clearly considered in “Portugal Space 2030”. Space provides the infrastructure for personal mobility, communication for work or when on vacation, weather forecasting, precision farming to maximise crop harvesting and crop rotation, banking transactions, management of precious resources such as potable water, monitoring of forest fires, archaeological investigations, scientific knowledge and the dream of expanding the reach of humanity. These and many more activities today rely on Space data and the infrastructure to generate this data and enable its use.

Beyond being a growing sector, Space is a sector that supports and enables the success and competitiveness of many other sectors. More can be done and the potential is far from being fully exploited. The possibilities are beyond what we can imagine today. This has spurred the emergence of a buoyant new Space sector with actors aiming to exploit these opportunities, thus changing the environment for Space activities in general.

The relevance of Space is based on the alignment of the Space agenda with major trends and drivers that will determine the evolution of our society. One vivid example is climate change: it is clear that climate change will have wide-scale impacts on environmental and human systems that are important to be monitored. Unprecedented changes in our society add to the complexity of this issue. In this context, the Space sector provides an essential tool (1) to monitor the weather and enable accurate forecasting; (2) to assess climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, and (3) to support information-based decision making on mitigation and adaptation policies and measures. Global challenges are not limited to climate change and Space should likewise be used to address migration, resource management, and health, among others.

Space and the development of the technologies that are associated with or derived from it are now recognised as a driver of innovation, as well as a way to attract youngsters and world talent, by several nations, representing an imperative for the promotion of social and economic progress and for international safety and security. In fact, the safety, security and well-being of our society are increasingly dependent on information and services provided from Space and it is important to point out the increasing impact of Space systems on many sectors.

The sectors that can profit from space-based solutions are agriculture, fisheries, infrastructure, urban development (including land register or urban mobility), transportation, maritime activities, communication, tourism, banking, defence and security, and even the public health sector, among others.

It is in this context that we talk about Democratisation of Space: the full integration of Space into society in a sustainable manner, both environmentally as well as economically, and therefore a growth beyond public sector funding on which has mostly relied in the past.

Indeed, beyond any technological development, the first breakthrough in Space was the recognition that it was more than just a way to demonstrate national pride and superiority, but that Space can actively, through data and its derived information, help tackle global challenges and solve problems of users and thus contribute significantly to economic growth. 

The next breakthrough will come when it is widely recognised that space is not just a passive provider of information, but that Space activities will translate from observation to action. This means going from supporting aid efforts in natural catastrophes to predicting them and avoiding loss of human life, or moving from scrutinising the effects of climate change to working against the consequences of human activity on the environment. We should also go from observing the impact of Space weather on assets in Space and on the ground, to prevent the consequences of events such as the Carrington event of 1859 or the March 1989 geomagnetic storm which caused multi-billion-euro damages to entire nations. Last but not least, humanity must move from observing the multiplication of space debris, to avoiding collisions from happening and actively addressing the safety of the space operation environment and further enabling manufacturing and recycling in space, thus integrating space in the economic sphere of influence of the Earth.

Portugal’s role in the Democratisation of Space

Portugal leads the effort of democratisation of access to space data primarily through:

a) making the first steps towards the dedicated development of a private-sector driven Earth Observation constellation of small satellites and associated downstream applications focused on the socio-economic development of the Atlantic (a “Blue World”), including investigating related aspects, such as Arctic weather and contributing to the strategic goals of partner countries [Programme(s): FutureEO and Incubed+];

b) investing into the development of downstream applications and services connecting space to non-space sectors, and engaging into new business models [Programme(s): Telecommunication and Integrated Applications, ARTES].

Portugal leads the effort of democratisation of access to space primarily through:

a) the support of industry-led public-private-partnership developments for a spaceport and microlauncher to be launched from the Azores for small satellites [Programme(s): Commercial Space Transportation Services] in complementarity to supporting the fly-European policy and contributing to the success and competitiveness of European launchers in the making [Programmes(s): Commercial Space Transportation Services];

b) supporting the success of Space Rider by targeting, above all, the vehicle’s exploitation by bringing in non-space sectors such as the pharma industry to foster research and development of products in a microgravity environment, thus leading space into a new era of commercialisation [Programmes(s): Space Rider].

© ESA 

The democratisation of access to Space, driven by technological advances like additive manufacturing technologies, small, energy-efficient computing; and lower-cost launch systems, will transform the accessibility to Space for the whole ecosystem including developing countries, SME, start-ups, research centres and universities.

The challenge is to develop creative and novel business plans and implement simple innovative solutions.

We now have new players emerging in the ecosystem, that look for and implement new economic models, that are no longer merely dependent on public funding.

The expansion of the ecosystems and the ever-increasing involvement of new private and public players in space activities, open the path for significant economic disruptions. Increasing competition between players has driven the sector forward, while on the other hand, it is fostered by cost-effectiveness solutions. This rising trend will accentuate the sharp competition but is also promoting an increase in investments in the sector. And the more significant the investments become, the higher will be the democratisation of Space.

New players

As new players and trends redesign the ecosystem’s composition, the business will have three fundamentals focus areas: revenues, sustainability and guarantee that the customer needs – individual citizens in the case of public fund – for space services are unquestionably met. In brief terms, the business model must be sustainable.

Portugal Space was therefore born to take a different approach. The Portuguese Space Agency works as a business development unit, promoter and enabler of space activities for the entire Portuguese ecosystem.

Portugal Space’s role is to work towards reducing the barriers for newcomers and supporting Portugal in ensuring that the policy and regulatory environment fosters new business models as well as the protection of the space environment.

The Democratisation of Space, the emergence of new players and continuous budget constraints require the development of new activities and the promotion of new markets within the country. With this new mindset, the government, represented by its national space agency, becomes an investor and business partner for companies willing to explore new markets and invest into making this happen.

Portugal is committed to lead the effort of the Democratisation of Space.

Because it is not just about business: it’s about education, science, and economy. It is about developing an innovation policy and diversifying funding sources for the entities which are involved in the fusion of space and non-space sectors for both economic and societal benefits.