Sat, Feb 24, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Brazil says US firms interested in launch site near equator

Reuters, BRASILIA

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and other US aerospace companies have expressed interest in launching rockets from Brazil’s Alcantara military base near the equator and visited the site in December, Brazilian Minister of Defense Raul Jungmann said on Thursday.

Alcantara’s location makes it attractive because about one-fifth less fuel is required to launch satellites into orbit along the equator compared with sites farther north or south.

Besides SpaceX, Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, the Alcantara visit included smaller US aerospace companies Vector Space Systems, which launches small satellites, and Microcosm, which focuses on providing low-cost access to space, an organizer of the trip said.

Former Brazilian ambassador to the US Rubens Barbosa, who organized the visit to the base, said that the US companies were eager to use the Alcantara site.

However, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, fresh off the successful launch this month of the world’s most powerful rocket, said the comments were not correct.

“Reports that SpaceX is interested in launching from Brazil are inaccurate,” spokesman John Taylor said in a statement.

In a statement, Lockheed Martin confirmed a fact-finding trip to Alcantara and Brasilia.

“While there are no formal decisions at this time, we look forward to a continued dialogue,” the company said.

Boeing said it sent two executives to visit the base.

“International partnerships will play an important role in making that a reality and we look forward to Brazil’s participation,” it said in a statement.

Boeing is seeking to buy Brazil’s Embraer, the world’s third-largest commercial manufacturer of passenger jets and the main player in the country’s aerospace industry.

US companies will not be able to launch rockets from Brazil until the country signs a Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) with Washington to protect US intellectual property.

A previous attempt to do so in 2000 was scuttled by the leftist government of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva when he took power in 2003 and has never been ratified by the Brazilian Congress. Brazilian lawmakers are expected to approve a new TSA that is now being negotiated with the US.

Jungmann said that in addition to US companies, China, Russia, France and Israel were interested in a partnership with Brazil to use the Alcantara site.

Brazil envisions multiple users for the base.

“I think we could set up five launch platforms,” Jungmann said.

A variety of countries have worked with Brazil on space issues. Over the past two decades, China has launched five small satellites that Brazil uses to observe agriculture, the environment and the destruction of Amazon rainforest.

Brazil abandoned plans to build its own rockets after an explosion and fire at Alcantara in 2003 killed 21 people.

Brazil then turned to the Ukraine to provide space technology, but canceled the deal in 2015, after the former Soviet Union republic’s financial problems left it unable to provide rockets as promised.

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