Abstract on Space

Tiago RodriguesUncategorized, blawg


Mouteira Guerreiro, Rosa Amaral & Associados
Sociedade de Advogados, SP RL

w. mgra.pt

e.​​ mgra@mgra.pt


Release date:​​ 10​​ october 2019




Space ports still project our mind’s eyes to fiction films, to museums, or to pioneer agencies for the exploration of the cosmos. This scenario has however been changing in the last years, with the concur of the massive dependency on information circulation and the huge investments to make communication faster, more powerful and universally accessible. The world has changed, “second space era” has started and Portugal is running at the front line, preparing a space port to be ready in 2021, at a unique location – the island of Santa Maria, in the Azores archipelago, mid north Atlantic-ocean. The geostrategic position of the Azores is particularly interesting, having been the first discovered land out in the Atlantic in the 15th century, at the very beginning of the Portuguese discoveries era, and now allowing for a unique safe launching window at the same time accessible and equidistant from Europe, Western Coast of Africa, Central, Southern and North America.

The outstanding conditions of the Azores for the installation of a space port are underlined by the result of the call for proposals to install and operate a Space Port, where 14 international consortiums presented their interest in the construction and operation. Major players as AEROSPACE, AVIO, Virgin Orbit, Elecnor DEIMOS and ROSCOSMOS are in the race. A commission, headed by the former European Space Agency Jean Jacques Dordain, seconded by Gaele Winters, former ESA launching director and Dava Newman, former NASA vice director, will evaluate the proposals received. As a result of the analyses performed the players were classified and admitted, being in the run all major players and the Portuguese space industry represented by Edisoft, Tekever and Omnidea, among others. The Space Port in Santa Maria activity is planned to start in 2021.

This second space run does not picture as a quest for knowledge, it is not “to the frontiers and beyond”, rather being a commercial powered activity, envisaging day to day needs and this change shifts the perspective from State sponsored missions to an enterprise investment. The sector is more and more privateer and less Public.

Launching a contest of ideas as a previous step to the formal process of launching applications, not being the most frequent process, is not unprecedented and European legislation (and, consequently, Portuguese) provides for some mechanisms for auscultation of the market prior to the drafting of the specifications.

Two procedures are possible:
a) Preliminary consultation – which is not a procedure, but a dialogue for future and possible procedures. Not very interesting as the ideas generally end up public and not developed by the author.
b) Competitive dialogue and innovation partnerships – a solution from the European directives of 2014 on public procurement, specially designed to deal with contracts that have a strong component of innovation.

From a legal framework perspective, the construction and operation of space ports, as well as the needed services, is also a new territory that requires considering various legal and regulatory aspects. From environmental requirements (including noise and air quality) to assessing whether the current legal framework in this field responds to the characteristics of the activity occurring in a port, everything is a challenge.  Security is also another relevant aspect. On the one hand, space technology is biased from double-use (i.e. civilian and military), and it is certain that a port can also, if foreseen, be used for military purposes. On the other hand, the spatial activities that take place in ports resorts to explosive and combustible (and sometimes nuclear) materials, which requires special attention to their storage, transport and handling and to compliance with the rules in force in these matters. All these matters have impact on a broader issue which is the safety of populations, including on the rocket launch routes, which is why the online criteria for locating a space port include population density, Meteorological conditions and airspace complexity. Finally, space debris is also a matter of concern.

The Portuguese satellite launch program is based on the Azores Space Port, with the location decided by the state, pointing a model of exploitation where the state has a certain intervention in the first moment and lesser level of intervention in the construction, operation and provision of services in the port.
State role in the new space activity is becoming currently regulatory, on multi views, and Portugal, alongside with the specific regulation of the Space Port activity has started to produce specific regulation on space activity, taking the contributes of the private sector for this purpose.

This is the point at which MGRA is focusing its intervention at the time being, having formed team of specialists to think, produce critical decisions and assist both the market and the regulator. This team has recently reviewed the “Space Activities Regulation” published by ANACOM – Portuguese Regulatory Body for Space Activities – last September. For the complete text of the revision click here.


This second race in space does not obey a common European framework, instead the regulation of spatial activities is responsibility of each Member State. Despite European Union has been very active in the space sector through its flag programmes: the Copernicus (Earth observation), Galileo and Egnos (positioning, navigation and chronometrics), together with the European Space Agency (Space Surveillance and Tracking).
If access to space is through horizontal takeoff (airplane instead of rocket with vertical release), European rules of aviation are applicable to the port.

The Portuguese program opens the chance to use horizontal launches using the airport that exists in Santa Maria. EASA (The European Aviation Safety Agency) had already proposed treating ports with suborbital flights such as aerodromes and certifying the suborbital vehicles as aircraft.

MGRA will promote and develop its activity in this exciting new area of practice, and new communications are to be expected as the activity goes on!