WASHINGTON — For years, the United States and Brazil have attempted to nail down a partnership that would enable satellites to launch from the latter’s Alcantara site. Such a deal was stalled most recently by demands that any space technology shared with Brazil would not end up in the hands of other countries.
But Brazil’s defense minister, who recently visited the U.S. to discuss the technological safeguard agreement that would allow such a space launch partnership to move forward, is optimistic that progress is happening.
“The sticking point is the technological safeguard agreement [tied to the] launching facility in Alcantara,” Brazilian Defense Minister Raul Jungmann, who sat down with Defense News for an interview, said through a translator. He confirmed a draft agreement was sent to the U.S. Department of Defense on May 30 and is currently being revised by the Pentagon.
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“There is room to reduce all these differences and disagreements,” Jungmann added. “It’s very important; Alcantara is considered to be the best base in the world in terms of geographic location.”
The Alcantara Launch Center is the closest launching base to the equator, located on the northern Atlantic coast. This gives the launch site a notable advantage in launching geosynchronous satellites, which orbit the equator, because they don’t have to travel as far and eat up less fuel.
Nailing down a launch partnership has been a tedious process. A deal signed in 2000 fell apart a few years later because the U.S. demanded control of access to parts. Concerns about the safeguard agreement were reported as far back as 2015, with Reuters pointing to fear among the military that Brazil’s collaboration with China would prevent it from truly gaining access to top U.S. satellite technology. Further complicating negotiations was the fact that Russia expressed great interest in partnering on space with Brazil.
Jungmann would prefer another approach over drafts being passed back and forth between governments: “We should get a team together, sit down and negotiate to overcome these differences because it’s faster and we can reach a solution quicker.”
Nailing an agreement would also open doors to industry.
“The private sector is very interested in moving forward with the negotiation and conversations about the Alcantara base,” he added, pointing specifically to Boeing. The company manufactures both satellites and missiles, and also is partnered with Lockheed Martin in the joint venture United Launch Alliance.
“Boeing sees this as an exciting time in the space industry as we build rockets for launch, test new spaceships and develop innovative technologies for keeping humans alive on orbit in deep space,” a company spokesman said. “International partnerships will play an important role in making that a reality, and we look forward to Brazil’s participation.”