Frank Braun: Brazil-China Cooperation in Space

CDN received a submission of the following UPI article, written by Frank Braun:

Sergio Gaudenzi, president of AEB, ’s space agency, said his nation hopes to launch a Chinese-Brazilian satellite aboard a Ukrainian rocket from ’s Alcantara launch center sometime after 2007. ’s National Congress has recently approved a commercial treaty signed by Luiz In√ɬ°cio Lula da Silva and Leonid Kuchma, the presidents, respectively, of and Ukraine. That agreement commits each nation to invest $50 million over the next three years for construction of a launchpad and launch facilities for the Ukrainian Cyclone-4 rocket.

“We are now just waiting for approval from Brazil’s Senate in order to establish a joint-venture company and begin construction work on the facilities for the Cyclone-4 rocket,” Gaudenzi said in a recent interview with United Press International at his office in Brasilia.

The Cyclone series and Yuzhnoye, the company that builds them, share a colorful and historic past. During the Cold War, Yuzhnoye’s operations were shrouded in secrecy. It is based in Dnepropretrovsk, which did not even appear on any maps of the former Soviet Union because of its clandestine operations.

The company built most of the former Soviet Unions’ massive arsenal of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Cyclone itself is a direct descendent of those missiles, including the SS-9 (Scarp) and SS-18 (Satan), of which the SS-18 continues to make up a good portion of Russia’s remaining ICBM arsenal. The original Cyclone underwent a significant transformation to emerge as the Cyclone 2 and 3 rockets, which are capable of launching heavy satellites into orbit.

Today, Yuzhnoye is open for business, and that business is providing rockets that can launch commercial satellites into Earth orbit, for a fee running between $30 million and $80 million.

This is the global business Brazil has been seeking to tap into for years. Because Brazil offers an ideal launch site situated near the equator, and the Ukrainians offer a proven and reliable commercial

rocket in the Cyclone, the two countries have decided to get together to tackle the highly competitive satellite-launch business.

The commercial agreement between Brazil and Ukraine caps a discussion about launching rockets from Brazil that was first introduced five years ago when the Italian company, Fiat-Avio, planned to invest $70 million to set up a joint-venture company with the Ukrainians to upgrade facilities at Alcantara, on the northern Atlantic coast in the state of state Maranh√ɬ£o — and launch the Cyclone-4.

Fiat-Avio eventually pulled out of that agreement, however, at the insistence of the United States. At the time, U.S. officials expressed concerns about the transfer of sensitive and advanced ballistic missile technology to Brazil.

The possibility that some of Ukraine’s ICBM technology would get into the hands of the Brazilian military via the country’s space program raised serious worries. To assuage those worries, the Brazilians subsequently entered into a series of negotiations with the U.S. government to establish a Technology Safeguards Agreement, which would have ensured that dual-use missile technology would not find its way into Brazil’s military programs.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian Congress did not ratify the TSA with the Americans. Legislators objected to certain provisions required by the United States, which they thought violated Brazil’s sovereignty.

Instead, the Congress approved what they considered to be a less-restrictive TSA with the Ukrainians. That, together with the recent approval of the commercial treaty, has laid the groundwork for the formation of the Alcantara-Cyclone-Space Joint Venture, a new Ukrainian-Brazilian company that will oversee launches of the Cyclone-4 from Brazil.

As yet, there has been no official U.S. reaction to adding a Chinese-Brazilian payload to that mixture. There could be concern about Chinese access to a previously unavailable equatorial launch site, and to Ukraine’s a vanced ballistic-missile technology.

The Brazilians and Chinese already have an existing program, under which they jointly designed and developed two remote sensing satellites — CIBER 1 and CIBER 2. Both CIBERs have been launched from China aboard Chinese rockets. The CIBERS program, however, calls for development and launch of three additional satellites — CIBERs 2B, 3 and 4. It is CIBER 4 the Brazilians hope to fly atop a Cyclone-4 rocket from Alcantara, which has remained unusable for some time.

Last year, Brazil’s own experimental Ve√É‚Äìculo Lan√ɬßador de Sat√ɬ©lites, or VLS, rocket exploded on its launchpad at Alcantara, just three days before its scheduled liftoff. The premature ignition of one of the rocket’s four boosters set off a disastrous chain of events. The 40 tons of solid fuel erupted into a massive fireball that not only destroyed the VLS, but also melted the base of the steel structure

that enclosed the rocket, causing the entire launch tower to topple over. The accident killed 21 space technicians and destroyed two, Brazilian-designed research satellites.

Rebuilding the launch center and turning it into a commercial complex is one of the main priorities of Brazil’s space program in the coming years, Gaudenzi said.

The other priority, he added — which was established personally by President Lula following the disaster — is “that the VLS will be launched before the end of 2006 and we are all working to fulfill that

promise.”

Frank Braun is an award-winning investigative journalist who

specializes in covering the Brazilian space program. E-mail

[email protected]

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