Portugal Space, as the agency is called, is to undertake "new activities and business" in the sector, particularly in the use of small satellites for the observation of Earth, and to "facilitate greater participation by Portugal in European programmes" overseen by the European Space Agency (ESA) and European Union initiatives, said the minister, Manuel Heitor.

The idea, he said, is "to streamline new industries, new companies and create skilled employment in Portugal" in the launch and manufacture of small rockets and satellites. The information collected by micro-satellites can be applied in precision farming, maritime safety and the registration of urban information, he noted.

Heitor said he expects the Portugal Space to drive the national goal, for 2030, to have 1,000 new jobs in the sector and corporate investment of €400 million. At present, the combined annual turnover of Portuguese aerospace companies is around €40 million, almost wholly through Portugal's participation in ESA projects.

The minister also set the goal of securing €320 million of the new European Space Programme budget, which totals €16 billion for the period 2021-2027.

"For this we need a professional body that allows us to go beyond what the FCT [Foundation for Science and Technology] Space Group currently does," argued Heitor.

The state is to invest, through the FCT, between €500,000 and €1 million to cover the new agency's "operating and commissioning costs", including the hiring of ten specialised technicians, with the objective of "attracting European and business funding" to support its operations.

Portugal Space is to be directed by an international expert, to be selected in an open competition, with the headquarters on Santa Maria, on a site yet to be determined by the Azores regional government, since it makes sense for it to be located near facilities where ESA satellite monitoring services already operate, Heitor noted. The island is also to be the home of the planned new space port for launching micro-satellites, a government initiative.

According to the announced timetable, the first launches are to be in the spring or summer of 2021. The contract for the construction and operation of the base is to be signed in June 2019, by the winning consortium in a public tender.

Portugal Space, which the minister had promised would be set up by the end of 2018, is one of the pillars of the national strategy for the sector, ‘Portugal Space 2030’.

The formal announcement of its creation is scheduled for Friday in Coimbra, during a meeting on the future of the Portuguese sector, attended by the managing director of ESA, Jan Wörner, the minister of science, and the Azores regional secretary for the sea, science and technology, Gui Menezes.