The government of Portugal’s plan to build a spaceport on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores has attracted 14 preliminary bids from companies and consortiums in the US, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, Macau.
The 14 tenderers have not been named.
A shortlist for the scheme is now being drawn up, and the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation will select the successful bidder in mid-2019, in consultation with the governments of Portugal and the Azores, reports news site Macauhub.
Manuel Heitor, Portugal’s science and technology minister, revealed in April 2017 that Airbus was interested in developing a base on the island.
When complete in 2021, the Atlantic International Satellite Launch Programme (AISLP) will be used to launch small satellites into space. A separate space sector cooperation agreement between China and Portugal could encourage Chinese companies to make use of the new facility.
The project will receive technical support from the European Space Agency (ESA), and Lisbon hopes to attract €320m from the €16bn European Space Programme budget for 2021-27.
The selected operator must provide low cost, frequent and regular access to space for small satellites, and it must demonstrate how it will work allow Portuguese companies to provide components and services for launchers and satellites.
Lisbon and Beijing have also agreed to set up a joint venture called STARlab. This will build and operate research centres in Shanghai and in Matosinhos and Peniche in mainland Portugal to assemble satellites for agricultural and oceanographic uses.
The island of Santa Maria was chosen because its remoteness from populations that may be affected by aborted launches, as well as the base’s electromagnetic radiation.
The base would also be close to Africa, which is expected to become an increasingly important market for micro-satellite launches. Morocco has in the past launched three satellites, Algeria six and Nigeria five.
Paulo FerrÃ£o, the president of Portugal’s Foundation for Science and Technology, said the country had particular capabilities in space system software and equipment. He said: "Portugal has been strengthening the strategic advantage of its geographical positioning in the Azores, through a partnership with the ESA, which has allowed for the installation of an advanced set of antennas capable of tracking of Ariane launches, facilitating data download for earth observation services, or enabling downlink of scientific missions’ data."
Image: Santa Maria is the most southern of the Azores archipelago (Carlos da Cruz/Public Domain)