Amendment to the legal regime for access to space activities

Decree-Law No 20/2024, of 2 February has been published, amending Decree-Law No Decree-Law No 16/2019, of 22 January, which established the legal regime for access to space activities.

Among other things, the new law creates a national licensing system for launch centres in Portugal. This change is intended to promote opportunities and flexibility in the establishment and operation of launch centres in Portugal. Within this framework, ANACOM remains the Space Authority (and, as such, the licensing body for space activities), while the Government of the Republic now plays a central role in this regard, being responsible for the prior assessment and approval of launch centre license applications in order to ensure that national interests are respected.

From an institutional point of view and with regard to the licensing of space launch centres, the Portuguese Space Agency has acquired new powers, first and foremost that of assessing the procedure for the prior approval of the Government. The involvement of the Autonomous Regions of the Azores and Madeira is guaranteed through their consultation and the issuing of a binding opinion on the establishment of launch centres on their territory. Also with regard to the institutional framework, it is important to highlight the legal recognition of the role of the Space Authority and the Portuguese Space Agency in promoting agreements with other States to waive licences in the case of space operations carried out outside the national territory by Portuguese operators or those established in the national territory.

Decree-Law 20/2024 reinforces the reference to the sustainability of space activities in line with international developments in this field, namely the United Nations Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. With regard to definitions, this Decree-Law defines experimental activities in the context of access to space, in order to clarify the type of activities that can benefit from a special licensing regime and from a waiver or reduction of the amount of insurance. The definitions of “space object” and “launch and/or return operation” have also been revised, and a new type of licence is now provided for: the “joint licence”, which refers to the single licensing procedure for space operations of the same or different nature carried out by more than one operator, with a licence being granted to each of the operators involved.