SCIENCE AND EXPLORATION
Space activities rely strongly on an innovation component, pushing to be at the edge of scientific and technological development.
Space sciences and space exploration are hard to separate, as they share a symbiotic relationship where one pushes the other to evolve, and through which we can discover more about our planet, the universe around us and increase our quality of life.
The need to discover and understand the surrounding environment is inherent to human nature. Since the beginning of times, Humanity looks to the sky to find answers to fundamental questions, about where we come from and where we are going. Today it is still no different: space represents a great unknown that asks to be unveiled.
Space Science and Exploration inspire the younger generations to follow STE(A)M related fields, contributing to motivating the future active members of society for highly qualified jobs. This includes future scientists, engineers, physicists, lawyers, architects, and others, thus helping to build human capital and enriching society in the long term. Through the dimension of Space Science, Portugal wishes to strengthen the collaboration of the Portuguese scientific community within itself, with international partners and with industry, to promote advances in the understanding of the universe, in Earth Sciences and Space Exploration.
In November 2019, during Space19+, Portugal contributed 47.4 M Euro to the Mandatory Activities of ESA, which include the Basic Activities and the Scientific Programme., Portugal also subscribed 3M Euro to PRODEX, intending to foster and support Portuguese participation in ESA scientific missions, such as PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillation of Stars) and ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey).
During Space19+ Portugal also contributed 1.5M Euro to the European Exploration Envelope Programme, intending to foster Portuguese industrial participation in the development technical equipment and above all foster the exploitation of microgravity research for non-space sector R&D and product developments.
Indeed, Scientific and Space Exploration activities with an immediate impact on the quality of life on Earth is the use of microgravity for the development of pharma products or specialised manufacturing process. Some of the microgravity commercialisation activities that are already being studied and where interest is increasing among different sectors are molecular biology, gravitational biology, fluid physics, human physiology and fundamental physics, between others.
With this in mind, during Space19+, Portugal also subscribed 1M Euro for the Space Rider Programme, intending to nurture the exploitation of the orbital spaceplane by promoting R&D of products under microgravity conditions.
Space exploration relies strongly on robotics and autonomy. Rovers used for exploration missions can now be independent of constant instructions sent from Earth and are capable of advanced navigation, localisation and navigating in challenging environments, also increasingly relying on Artificial Intelligence to complete necessary tasks.
The intensification of the exploration and exploitation of space in Low Earth Orbit and beyond raises the need for sustainability, drawing the attention to the management of resources in space, namely recycling, manufacture and utilisation of in-situ resources, which promise to be some of the next technological challenges in space and open up new markets.
Given the limited capacity to lead large exploration missions, Portugal must grasp opportunities to strengthen acquired competences; but complemented with:
- invest in in-situ resource utilisation and in-space manufacturing opportunities
- strengthening of the scientific “mining” of exploration activities;
- stimulating commercial activities built on synergies between space and non-space sectors such as sea/deep-sea sectors or Earth mining sectors;
- raising awareness of commercial opportunities for end-users and facilitate their entrance in the space landscape;
Research in space science and exploration (as well as other space-related subjects) is supported by Portugal Space and can be conducted through PhD scholarships. Portugal Space will be launching a call for PhD scholarships funded by FCT where students can apply to develop their space-related research projects, including Space Science, Exploration Sustainability and in-situ resource utilisation.
SciSpacE (Science in Space Environment) and ExPeRT (Exploration Preparation, Research and Technology) are transversal programmatic lines within ESA European Exploration Envelope Programme 2 (E3P2) of interest to Portugal, as these allow to perform scientific research in simulated and real space environments (e.g. microgravity research) as well as the preparation and development of new technologies for future missions. These activities are essential for the four cornerstone mission campaigns of E3P2: Humans in LEO (Low Orbit Earth), Humans beyond LEO, Lunar robotic exploration and Mars robotic exploration.