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News | July 15, 2020

USSPACECOM adds Portugal – a strategic NATO Ally – to SSA Data Sharing cadre

By USSPACECOM Public Affairs

U.S. Space Command signed a space situational awareness data sharing agreement this week with the Portuguese Republic marking the 117th partner agreement supporting Space Domain Awareness.

“The Cooperation in Safety of Spaceflight and the Provision of Space Situational Awareness Services and Information between the Department of Defense and Portugal” will be the 117th agreement for the DoD data sharing network.

USSPACECOM’s SDA capabilities are unparalleled in part due to the strong network of partner nations and commercial entities who have agreed to responsibly share space data. Portugal, as a responsible space-faring nation and integral member of NATO, adds to that network of partner nations who provide SSA data to the growing SDA larger picture.

Awareness of the space environment through shared SSA data helps to identify and characterize threats while supporting stability and peace within the space domain. Portugal, as a responsible actor, wants to contribute to that shared responsibility.

Portugal and the U.S. are long-time allies and NATO founding members that meet semi-annually through a high-level Standing Bilateral Commission to strengthen the partnership and discuss areas of mutual cooperation. The two countries signed the SSA agreement on July 15 during the "43rd United States – Portugal Standing Bilateral Commission."

Dr. Alberto Coelho, Director General of the Portuguese Ministry of National Defense Resources Directorate, highlighted the noteworthy step taken with this arrangement. 

“Today’s SSA ceremony marks a critical milestone in space cooperation over the Atlantic, between the U.S. and Portugal,” Coelho said. “We look forward to continued collaboration with the United States, namely in line with the U.S. Defense Department’s new Defense Space Strategy.”  

Ambassador Madalena Fischer, Portuguese Director General of Foreign Policy, led the Portuguese Delegation to the Standing Bilateral Commission. She said, “with its new national space strategy, Portugal Espaço 2030 and with the creation of the national space agency, Portugal Space, Portugal has increased and is now implementing its ambitions in space. The U.S.-Portuguese collaboration is important and renews ties between the two nations.”

The shared data creates a more robust operational picture, which translates into:

  • Better deterrence against adversary aggression and attacks in space
  • Stronger alignment with allies and partners to develop and promote standards and norms of appropriate behavior in space
  • Reduction of potential miscalculations
  • More informed international and public audiences of the growing adversarial threats in space
  • Advancements in U.S., allied and partner national security interests

The U.S., through its growing network of responsible space-faring nations, will continue to expand its operational picture of the space domain through these types of agreements.

“This cooperative agreement with Portugal is directly aligned with USSPACECOM’s line of effort to strengthen relationships with allies, partners and industry,” said Rear Admiral Marcus Hitchcock, U.S. Space Command Director for Plans, Policy and Strategy. “Enhancing space cooperation with the international community increases security, stability and accessibility in space and leverages opportunities in capabilities, information sharing and military operations.”

U.S. Ambassador to Portugal George Glass, who participated in the Standing Bilateral Commission from Lisbon, reflected on how this agreement was an opportunity to renew and further strengthen the capacity of our longstanding, trans-Atlantic relationship. 

“This agreement is yet another example of how the U.S. and Portugal collaborate side by side on the most critical issues of our time,” Glass said. “Today’s SSA ceremony underscores just how deeply committed the U.S. is to enhancing bilateral space cooperation, as well as investing in the science, technology, and economic sectors of the Azores through advocacy and exchange.”

The signing comes just over a year after the Portuguese government signed a formal charter for their national space agency. The agency looks to begin launching small satellites by next year. 

Why do we sign SSA sharing agreements?

Space Situational Awareness data sharing agreements advance National and Presidential policies, which call for expanding international cooperation and increasing U.S. leadership to promote the sustainable and responsible use of space. By entering into the proposed agreements, DoD — represented by U.S. Space Command — is authorized to exchange SSA information consistent with 10 U.S.C. § 2274. The statute allows DoD to provide various SSA services and information, and to receive SSA data and information from the partner. These exchanges improve safety of global space flight, while enhancing the overall USG SSA. This information is particularly critical for avoiding future collisions in outer space that can degrade the space environment for all countries, such as the February 2009 collision between the Iridium and Russian Cosmos satellites.