Lost in yesterday’s developments in Libya was the release of a joint statement by US President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during President Obama’s visit to Brazil. The lengthy statement covered a wide range of topics, including, interestingly, three paragraphs devoted to space policy:
President Rousseff welcomed the emphasis the U.S. National Space Policy has placed on international cooperation and expressed her wish to expand the dialogue with the United States bearing in mind the guidelines of the Brazilian space policies, aimed at technological capacity building and the commercial use of infrastructure and technology.
In this context, they welcomed the signing of a new bilateral Framework Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and expressed their desire to commence negotiations of a new agreement to protect launching operation technologies.
Furthermore, they affirmed the commitment of their countries to security in space and decided to initiate a dialogue in that area. They also instructed the appropriate agencies in the two countries to discuss the establishment of a Brazil – United States. Working Group on satellite-based earth observations, environmental monitoring, precipitation measurement, and natural disaster mitigation and response that would facilitate future dialogue and cooperation in these fields.
The middle paragraph appears to refer to the long, difficult road to launching US satellites, or even US launch vehicles, from the Brazilian spaceport at Alcântara. That facility is ideally located for GEO launches, as it is located within three degrees of the Equator, but has been used primarily for sounding rockets. Brazil developed a small launch vehicle, the VLS-1, but the vehicle never successfully launched; during preparations for its third launch in 2003, the rocket exploded on the pad, killing 21 people. There has been interest from other vehicle developers about using the site, but one hindrance has been the lack of a Technology Safeguard Agreement between the US and Brazil, to comply with US export control laws to protect US technology. A TSA was signed in 2000, but the Brazilian government declined to ratify it after some legislators expressed concerns that it violated the country’s sovereignty.
The agreement suggests the two countries are willing to reopen discussions that could lead to a new TSA. But who will use the spaceport? One long-discussed vehicle has been the Ukrainian Cyclone-4 rocket. While those plans have suffered numerous delays (a 2004 report indicated that Cyclone launches from Alcântara would begin “sometime after 2007″), there may be some progress, as groundbreaking on Cyclone facilities at the spaceport took place last September. Interestingly, a WikiLeaks cable from December 2008 reports that Ukrainian officials met with staff of the US embassy in Brazil, asking for US government support from the project; the Ukrainians offered to lobby the Brazilian congress to win approval of the original US-Brazil TSA. A couple months later the US declined the offer, according to another WikiLeaks cable.