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U.S space companies aim to help Brazil rocket base lift off

Reuters  |  BRASILIA 

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - U.S. companies eager to tap into the fast-growing market for low-cost could become the first customers when Brazil's Alcantara space center near the equator opens as a commercial spaceport, executives and Brazilian officials said.

Aerospace titans and in December visited the Alcantara space center, but the Brazilian space agency's is especially attractive to smaller firms because its equatorial location cuts fuel costs by a third.

Still, Brazil's aim of becoming a hot new hub in the space industry will depend on negotiating a (TSA) with the to protect sensitive American space launch and Without it, no U.S. rocket can blast off from the South American country.

wants to attract customers by marketing itself as the cheaper alternative to Kourou, the European spaceport in neighboring French Guiana, which mostly launches big satellites. Brazilian officials are hoping to complete a U.S. TSA this year that would facilitate the opening of the commercial spaceport.

On Feb. 22, U.S. and representatives, along with space companies from both countries, held a conference call with a who was asked whether the would agree to a TSA with Brazil, according to a person on the call.

"We are encouraged that Brazilian officials have expressed an interest in working more closely with the in the space sector," a for the National Security Council said. She gave no further details.

The safeguard accord could be ready this year if the U.S. State Department gets negotiating permission, according to industry representatives.

Tucson, Arizona-based Vector Launch Inc, which specializes in small rockets, appears eager to launch from the Brazilian site. The company wants to undercut big payload specialists like billionaire Elon Musk's by launching so-called microsatellites from small rockets, cutting costs and wait time for clients.

"Our vision is to launch hundreds of Vector rockets into orbit to satisfy the growing market for microsatellites," said Vector Vice Alex Rodriguez, who made a December visit to Alcantara coordinated by Boeing.

"We are closer to the equator and have an for launching microsatellites," said Luiz Fernando Aguiar, of the Brazilian Air Force's space program, comparing the Alcantara site with Kourou.

Alcantara has radars, a runway and a seaport to unload equipment, along with plenty of open land to store rockets and build a liquid oxygen plant if needed, he said.

A previous attempt at a U.S.-Brazilian space partnership was scuttled in 2003 when the faced resistance from the leftist government of former and was thwarted by Brazilian lawmakers. The new effort is expected to pass easily in a more conservative


While the market for launches of large geosynchronous satellites has solidified, the Space Enterprise Council, which represents U.S. industry from to satellite manufacturers, has said the expanding microsatellite sector could experience up to 600 launches for satellites under 110 pounds (50 kg) between now and 2022.

Alcantara could capture 25 percent of that market, according to the council, which has said a U.S.-Brazilian partnership would give both countries an edge in the fast-growing segment.

The cost of microsatellites is a fraction of larger satellites options, making them increasingly important for navigation, Earth imagery, surveillance and

Boeing, which chairs the Space Enterprise Council, is in talks to partner with Brazil's , the world's third-largest commercial planemaker and the main player in the Brazilian

was not represented on the visit to Alcantara and is not a member of the council, which also includes Lockheed Martin, and Viasat Inc.

After Brazilian officials last month said was on the trip, the company said that was incorrect and that it was not interested in launching from

Viasat last month entered the businesses in with an agreement to use capacity on the country's 5-tonne SGDC-1 launched last year from Kourou and operated by state-run telecom company .

Brazil abandoned plans to build its own rocket to put large satellites in orbit after an explosion and fire in 2003 at Alcantara killed 21 people.

The country is developing a smaller rocket for microsatellites that will be launched from Alcantara next year, boosted by engines developed by the

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by and Tom Brown)

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, March 09 2018. 02:04 IST