Portugal Space: the “new kid on the block”

Just another space agency? Not at all; the special profile and way of working of Portugal Space puts Portugal in a prominent place on the space map.

Portugal has so much to offer from beaches to culture, history, food and architecture. But there is more. Some years ago now, back in the year 2000, Portugal became the 15th Member State of ESA, the European Space Agency. Now that Portugal has its own Space Agency, “Portugal Space”, founded in 2019, Portugal has officially joined the club of spacefaring nations. Just another space agency? Not at all; the special profile and way of working of Portugal Space puts Portugal in a prominent place on the space map. It is obvious that a newly established agency can draw on the experience of others. In this respect,  Portugal Space had indeed paid careful heed to the rapidly changing space environment not to copy but instead to develop a very special, uniquely lean organisation.

From the very first day of existence of Portugal Space, the Portuguese Government decided not to be autonomous in space but to use its experience as an ESA Member State to enhance European activities in space and at the same time to develop a national space profile based on direct links with Portuguese industry and all ministries. For several years now, ESA has been running a Business Incubation Centre, managed by the University of Coimbra.

Portugal’s prominent position on the Atlantic Ocean, and the unique geographical conditions of the Azores in the middle of the ocean, are drivers to look for opportunities to combine space technologies and marine applications. It was a clever move to position Portugal Space not only in Lisbon, but also in the Azores.

While developing national competencies, Portugal Space is at the same time strengthening Portugal’s role within ESA. In this regard, not only the significant financial contribution made at the ESA Council at ministerial level in 2019, but the political position as Co-Presidency of ESA for the next 3 years places Portugal at the helm of ESA. In addition, Portugal will hold the Presidency of the EU Council in 2021, the first year of the EU’s new Multiannual Financial Framework, which covers the EU Space Programme as well.

Right now, we are of course still facing the coronavirus crisis with all the associated measures this implies, not least a severe impact on the way we all work. Even if the virus can be beaten soon, it is already obvious that a “new normal” will emerge in its wake. The way in which we work day to day will change and I hope that we will be able to adapt our organisations accordingly: instead of hierarchical structures, based on a top-down definition of tasks, I see synaptic structures, where various links between the different individuals and organisations exist and where individual performance evaluation is based on results. And I am sure Portugal Space will be under the first organisations to go this direction.

Overall, Portugal is not a big country but it is a great one, giving Europe new impetus in space by forming new coalitions: competition is a driver, but cooperation is an enabler!

Johann-Dietrich Wörner
4 of September, 2020
About the author

Jan Wörner was born in Kassel, Germany, in 1954. He studied civil engineering at the Technical Universities of Berlin and Darmstadt, from where he graduated in 1985. In 1982, as part of his studies, he spent one year in Japan, investigating earthquake safety of nuclear power plants. Until 1990, Mr Wörner worked for consulting civil engineers König und Heunisch. In 1990 he returned to TU Darmstadt, where he was appointed as a professor of Civil Engineering. Before being elected as President of TU Darmstadt in 1995, he held the position of Dean of the newly established Civil Engineering Faculty. Jan Wörner has been awarded numerous prizes and positions. Before joining ESA as Director General, Jan Wörner was head of the German delegation to ESA from 2007 to 2015 and served as Chairman of the ESA Council from 2012 to 2014.