Atlantic international Satellite Launch Programme

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The Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, FCT) and the Mission Structure of the Azores for Space (Estrutura da Missão dos Açores para o Espaço, EMA-Space) launched on the 24th of September 2018 an international invitation for qualified entities worldwide to express their interest to collaborate with Portuguese enterprises and research laboratories to design, install and operate a spaceport in the island of Santa Maria, in the Azores, associated with the development and operation of a new generation of satellite launch services to space. This initiative has been launched with the technical support of the European Space Agency (ESA).

This initiative, which consists of several distinct phases, aims to stimulate the creation of qualified employment and the leverage of new projects of a spatial nature with great added value that can guarantee the increase and a new impetus for the projects already existing in the Island of Santa Maria, as well as to the national research and technological development companies and centres in this sector, positioning the country and the region in the development of a new generation of space activities based on small satellites. The expectation is that, after all phases of evaluation and analysis of feasibility conditions and contractual processes, the first launch services start operating in the Azores in the Spring/Summer of 2021.

The Process


Call for Interest of Qualified Entities for Launch Services to Space from the Island of Santa Maria


Overture of International Invitation for Tender for Launch Services to Space from the Island of Santa Maria


Conclusion of International Competitive Bidding for Launch Services to Space from the Island of Santa Maria

A High Level Scientific Committee, composed of national and international experts of recognized international merit and coordinated by Jean Jacques Dordain (former Director General of ESA), has been constituted to support EMA and FCT with the scientific and technical assessment of the proposals.

Composition of the High Level Scientific Committee

Member Description
Jean Jacques Dordain (Chair) Former Director-General of ESA (2003-2015); Honorary Chancellor of the International Space University, ISU. In 1998 he was Executive Secretary at the Japanese Space Agency (then NASDA, now JAXA) and later started as Director of Launchers at ESA, where he became Director General in July 2003.
Gaele Winters Former Director of Launchers at ESA (D/LAU; 2014-2017). He was previously Director of ESA Improvement Projects (D/EIP) from November 2013, Director of Corporate Reforms since April 2011, and before that was acting ESA Director of Resources Management & Industrial Matters from October 2010. He had been Director of Operations and Infrastructure, and Head of the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, from 2004 and Director of Technical and Operational Support from 2001.
Dava Newman Apollo Program Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Harvard–MIT Health, Sciences, and Technology faculty member in Cambridge, MA. Former Director of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT (2003–2015), and Director of the MIT–Portugal Program (2011–2015; and again from 2018). Former Deputy Administrator of NASA (2009-2017).
Byron Tapley Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin (Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair Emeritus in Engineering); NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, 2018.
Vitor Fraga President of SDEA, The Society for the Entrepreneurial Development of Azores. Former Regional Secretary of the Azores Government (for Transports and Public Works; Tourism). Former member of the board of SATA.
Luis Castro Henriques President AICEP, Portuguese Trade and Investment Agency.
Jose Toscano Director Intl Relations, IntelSAT. Former Director General of ITSO, International Telecommunications Satellite organization.
António Cunha Professor of the University of Minho, Director of DTx - Digital Transformation CoLab.

The results

The first phase of the Atlantic International Satellite Launch Program, which consisted of expressions of interest from entities that can assure the development and operation of a new generation of satellite launch services to space, ended on 31st of October 2018.

14 international consortia have submitted proposals of interest within the scope of the Atlantic International Satellite Launch Programme:

  1. ArianeGroup
  2. Astos Solutions GmbH
  3. AVIO
  4. Elecnor DEIMOS Group
  6. GTD
  7. Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH
  8. PLD Space
  9. Rocket Factory Augsburg
  11. Sierra Nevada Corporation
  12. Valispace
  13. Virgin Orbit LLC
  14. Vertiv Integrated Systems GmbH

All proponents have expressed interest in collaborating with Portuguese companies and national research and engineering centres to design, install and operate a space port on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, namely: Grupo Bensaude, Efacec, TEKEVER, Lusospace, IST, Critical Software, HPS, D-Orbit, DEIMOS, GMV, CEiiA, Omnidea, ISQ, Active Space Technologies, Simbiente Azores, EMZ- Sociedade de Representações, Assistência e Reparações de Equipamentos de Vácuo e Electrotécnica Lda. and Edisoft.

The 14 expressions of interest include worldwide companies (11 EU, 2 USA and 1 RU), which together have declared an interest in acting throughout the value chain associated with the new generation of small satellite launch services to space. It should be noted that the proposals include innovative access to space solutions based on microlaunchers (representing 7 proposals), systems and software engineering products and services as well as ground infrastructures.

The Committee decided to short list 5 expressions of interest submitted from launcher provider companies, that propose to develop a small launcher and looking for a launch base. The short listed consortia will be invited to submit a full committing proposal for the 2nd phase of the AISLP. These are AVIO, AZUL Consortium, Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH, PLD Space, Rocket Factory Augsburg.

In addition, the Committee considered that there is another set of expressions of interest that are ready for specific negotiations with Portuguese authorities, others that are subsystems suppliers and finally Ariane Group that expressed interest to operate and manage the spaceport.

Next steps

  • February 2019 (date to be defined): Closing date for the submission of outline proposals, containing the required essential information, of the “International Invitation for Tender for Launch Services to Space from the Island of Santa Maria”;
  • February-March 2019 : Assessment process, including a public presentation of bids.
  • March-May 2019 : Final Assessment Phase.
  • End of April 2019 : Final negotiation with Enterprises/Consortia.
  • April/May 2019 : Establishment of a contract for the development and operation of the Spaceport.
  • May/June 2019 to May/June 2021 (2 years) : analysis and external assessment of Implementation phase.
  • Spring/Summer 2021 : First expected launch services operating from the Azores.