lighthouse projectS

Space-Innovation Ecosystem in Santa Maria

The overarching goal is to promote the Azores as an ultra-peripheral region by introducing activities that bring socio-economic benefit locally, to Portugal and to Europe.

©  ESA –Jacky Huart, 2016

The Island of Santa Maria in the Azores is envisaged to become an important Space Innovation Ecosystem in Europe, through the Democratisation of Space and by fostering a coherent strategy for a new generation of space-related services and firms, the so-called “New Space for People”. Democratisation of Space stands for the full integration of space into society and economy in a sustainable way (economically and environmentally) and includes enabling access to space data and to the environment of space (launching, in-orbit, and return, i.e. transportation/logistics activities).

Activities identified that will boost the local economy and society and accelerate democratisation of space include

  • The Azores International Satellite Launch Programme (Azores ISLP) based on a vertical spaceport for mini and micro launchers to allow an open, low-environmental impact and cost-efficient access to space, for payloads up to 500kg to complement the existing facilities in Kourou (French Guiana) for medium and large launchers;
  • A landing facility for Space Rider, the future European transportation vehicle for microgravity experiments, including “payload post-processing facilities” to foster new economic activities to exploit the microgravity environment for the development of new products (for example, innovative pharma firms);
  • A Teleport to support ground segment operations and data flow, including the expansion of existing ESA and EUMETSAT facilities;
  • Test facilities for engines and stages for micro launchers;
  • A business incubator network for small start-ups and innovative firms;
  • Expansion of existing large airport infrastructures (including the possibility to attract horizontal vehicles for space tourism and foster a new dimension to the local tourism economy).


These unique facilities will, if brought to completion, achieve the following:

  • An upgrade of fundamental infrastructure on the Island of Santa Maria – harbour and port, roads, water etc. – which will benefit the local population at large and facilitate easier access to the island;
  • Installation of new permanent facilities – testing and launching – which will require permanent employees therefore boosting local employment by about 50 jobs, of which 90% will be highly-skilled;
  • The creation of new research clusters and businesses related to small-satellites, their downstream applications, and to non-gravity environments including the upcoming revolutionary market of space pharmaceutical products;
  • Complement the current access to space facilities in Kourou, thus contributing to ensuring Europe’s autonomous and independent access to space. At the same time, capturing a part of the launch market that Europe does not usually cover by attracting non-European payloads and therefore contributing to the increase in industrial competitiveness and European leadership;
  • Creation of a local ecosystem that inspires younger generations towards both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering e Mathematics), but also helps develop local activities that support the strengthening of the Azores region as a European outpost in a strategically important geopolitical location.

Note: these activities and facilities will complement other initiatives in the Island of Terceira, Azores, including:

  • ESA_Lab@Azores for Earth Observation, as a pole of the Atlantic International Research Centre (AIR Centre), created and under development since 2018;
  • Business incubation services, as developed over the last few years (e.g. TERINOV);
  • Existing large airport infrastructures and related installations.

Supported by the already existing facilities on the Island of Santa Maria, such as the ESA Tracking station, the Azores International Satellite Launch Programme (Azores ISLP), under the responsibility of the Regional Government, is one of the elements of Portugal Space 2030. The concept is to lead to the establishment of an Industry-led open spaceport for launching small satellites.

Introducing new activities in Santa Maria means that both the island’s natural ecosystem and its people always need to be at the core of any decisions, as these projects might represent a risk for the environment and the daily life of the island’s population.