Azores may be rocket site

Portugal is a leading candidate to replace Guyana as a launch pad for European Space Agency rockets, according to Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, Maria da Graça Carvalho. She claims that the island of Santa Maria in the Azores has the ideal geographic and climactic characteristics to fulfil the ESA’s requirements. The ministry describes Portugal’s “privileged geographic position when compared to other European countries”.

Between now and 2008, European Space Agency scientists will be studying ways to replace the current range of rockets with new technology that will permit the recovery of rocket launchers. They stress they are talking of a long-term project that will not be operational until 2015, but that the new site envisaged would need a 2,000 kilometre area – which Guyana does not possess.

Questioned over whether Portugal would be the country best equipped to receive the launch base, the minister conceded that the Canary Islands possess similar conditions and stressed that it is premature to draw conclusions. However, the idea of installing a rocket base in Santa Maria follows a year of negotiations about the island with local authorities.

Carvalho pointed out some of the advantages of the Azores becoming a rocket launching island, including the fact that it will create employment within the field of science and the possibility of the site becoming famous throughout the world as a consequence. Opposition Socialist Party science spokesman, Santos Silva, is also in favour of the move, commenting that, however remote the possibility, it is always positive for the country to receive a position of high technological and strategic importance.