Chris Lehto from The Portugal News was invited to the 15th Annual European Space Conference in Brussels, 24-25 Jan 2023.
The big theme of the Conference was securing a future in Space for the European Union. Now the 4th largest Space Blok behind the US, China, and Russia, the EU zone pulled in 8.6 billion Euros in 2021, according to Anna Christman, Coordinator for German Aerospace Policy.
During the opening keynote address, Director General for European Space Agency (ESA) Josef Aschbacher said, "the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call for Europe...similar to a 911 event."
Aschbacher said on the eve of Russia's attack, a simple denial of cyber service attack blinded ESA's satellite systems, leaving Europe in the dark.
Thomas Dermine, in charge of Economic Recovery and Science Policy, said, "Fear is a great motivator, and unfortunately, if we want investment in space, we may need to use this emotional response to get people invested."
picture painted at the Conference was Europe falling behind.
Newer, innovative, risk-taking companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX outperform the European industry. SpaceX has been operating reusable rockets for over a decade, while Europe's reusable rockets are still video renders.
Innovative Government Programs in other Nations, such as the US, enable new companies to innovate by getting out of the way.
Portugal was one of the few shining examples of forward-thinking and risk-taking at the Conference. Portugal is invariably connected to the Ocean, and the country's small size allows a different perspective from the rest of Europe. Portugal finds itself in the unique position to move quickly and boldly into the Space Industry.
According to the President of Portugal's Space Agency, Ricardo Conde, Portugal is doing precisely that:
Chris Lehto: Sir, what do you think about Portugal Space Programs in 2023?
Ricardo Conde: I think  will be the year! I'm really quite convinced because we launched several initiatives and big ambitions to tackle the downstream applications using our data from satellite constellations. So we launched, under the recovery plan, constellations of 20 satellites in the different, let's say, technologies SAR, Optical, and the DBS. And also, we are preparing to access, then return from space from ports in the Azores. So we are pushing for that this will be the year. Last week we launched this Technological Center for the development of the specifications also in the Azores. Be prepared because we have some good news to share in the next six months: we will go suborbital and then orbital [at Portuguese] launch spaceports.
Chris Lehto: Are you talking about orbital and suborbital launches from Portugal?
Ricardo Conde: Yes, from Portugal, particularly from Santa Maria Island in the Azores. We'll start this year with suborbital until June or July. So we are working on this schedule, but then we are also preparing for orbital. So we are in the arena for the competition, and mainly are these few launch companies that it will be a reality, a maturity they reach the maturity probably at the end of this year. So we are at the right time.
Chris Lehto: Excellent. You mentioned in your panel here that Portugal has doubled its space budget. How were you able to do that? Will it continue in the future?
Ricardo Conde: I believe so. We made a strong effort during the last ministerial in November, but then we complemented with the national funds and the recovery plan. And we were one of the few countries, three or four countries, that put space in the recovery plan!
Chris Lehto: How important is space to Portugal, to the Portuguese government?
Ricardo Conde: Well, more and more, it's essential because this message is more and more present in our ministers, not to only one or two ministers; it's transversal in our ministers and mainly because space has been seen as an answer to tackle real problems. So space must deliver, and here's what we are doing to focus. We are not scattering our budget across several, let's say, opportunities. Of course, we need to build our capabilities [like we] are doing at ESA, for example. But for the initial programs, we need to focus on managing our territory. We have these droughts and also wildfires. These are big problems, also for Eurozone, and we have this vast Atlantic dimension that we need to take care of; this is precisely our choice.
Chris Lehto: So, you're leveraging space to help with these problems and added that to the recovery plan for the European Union?
Ricardo Conde: Exactly. [Leveraging Space] is also the way to leverage best an agenda, an industrial agenda for small size and small integration companies. Yeah, we will do it.
Chris Lehto: Best of luck, Sir, in 2023!
According to the ptspace.pt webpage, "Following a Request for Interest (RFI), issued by Portugal in September 2018, fifteen companies declared a keen interest in having space launch facilities on Santa Maria due to the attractivity of the location." The spaceport will be at the southeastern tip of the Azores Archipelago, Santa Maria Island, "a prime location for launching towards the south to Low Earth Orbits.
And as Portugal Space President Ricardo Conde said, the aim is Orbital. Europe, the 4th most prominent Space member, is currently dependent on other countries for its access to space. Can a European space center in the Azores change Europe's dependence on other blocks?
Could Portugal be a leader in the space, space?
This author believes the answer is yes. One way "to promote scientific education and culture among younger generations" is to focus on the collaborative, open study of the unknown. When I approached other members at the Conference concerning unidentified anomalous phenomena or "UAPs," they turned around. Portugal Space President Ricardo Conde did not. That is a great first indicator of possible success. Learning about the universe's unknowns could engage and interest the general public. Imagine if Star Trek were real. Should this possibility be considered? It would make space more exciting, and NASA is already investigating UAPs.
Let us know what you think! We love to hear from you at The Portugal News!
For more info on UAPs, go to my YouTube channel, LEHTO FILES.