Brazil’s Rockets and Missiles Update – 2004

Brazil’s attempt to develop a national space launch program has continued to experience setbacks. The third attempt to launch Brazil’s first big space rocket failed in August 2003. Nevertheless, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva affirmed that his administration is committed to launching the rocket successfully before he leaves office. Brazil is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and just prior to joining it, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso declared that Brazil does not intend to produce, import, or export long-range ballistic missiles. This message was later reiterated by the director-general of Brazil’s Aerospace Technical Center (CTA), who affirmed that Brazilian space activities are unrelated to weapons technology. However, a successful launching operation could hasten the day when Brazil’s VLS rocket could be converted into a ballistic missile with intercontinental range.

VLS program

The VLS (Veiculo Lancador de Satelites) is a four-stage rocket designed to launch satellites. In August 2003, the third VLS rocket exploded when one of its engines accidentally ignited on the launch pad and killed 21 engineers and technicians. The vehicle was still several days away from launch. Two previous launch attempts, in 1997 and again in 1999, failed when the rockets veered off course.

According to a media report, the damage caused by the August explosion was estimated at (US) $33 million, far more than the Brazilian Space Agency’s annual budget. Brazil’s budget is now constrained by International Monetary Fund agreements that require the government to run budget surpluses. Despite the financial burden, President Lula da Silva has vowed to continue to develop Brazil’s space program, and to launch another test of the VLS while he is still in office.

Brazil has also begun preliminary studies on a second launch vehicle, the VLS-2. It is possible that this rocket will use a liquid propulsion system. According to the Brazilian minister of Defense, Russian cooperation in assisting with the liquid-fuel technology will be important in this endeavor. The VLS-2 is intended to carry satellites weighing 400 to 1000 kg to orbits of 2000 km.

Foreign assistance

In addition to the Russian assistance with the VLS-2 liquid propulsion system, Brazil has entered into cooperative agreements with several other countries.

In October 2003, Brazil entered into an agreement with Ukraine whereby Ukraine will help finance the additional infrastructure necessary to enable the launching of the Ukrainian Cyclone 4 rockets from the Alcantara launch pad in Brazil.

Brazil has also entered into an agreement with China to cooperate on space technology. According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the first jointly-developed satellite was successfully launched by China in October 1999. China launched the second jointly-developed satellite in October 2003. Two additional satellites are planned.

Finally, Avibras, a Brazilian manufacturer of military equipment, will reportedly sell an estimated (US) $400 million in goods, mainly missile launchers, to the United Arab Emirates.