Brazil attempts to revive space technology program

The Brazilian government signed a space technology safeguard agreement (TSA) with the US with hopes to revive its own activities in the sector and cash in on commercial opportunities.

The idea is that Brazil would be able to claim a share of the space launch business, estimated to generate nearly $300 billion a year, by allowing US companies to launch out of the Brazilian Air Force’s Alcantara Launch Center.

Launching from Alcantara is interesting to American rocket companies as it’s cheaper because of shorter flights. “Because of the location, tremendous amounts of money would be saved,” US president Donald Trump said at a press conference with Brazil’s Bolsonaro, who visited Washington last week.

Under the agreement, the Brazilian government hopes to generate about $150 million yearly with activities in the Alcantara launch site near the equator. Exchanges around technology best-practices with the involved parties are also expected as part of the TSA.

According to Bolsonaro, his government will pursue space technology safeguard agreements with other countries.   

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In a statement posted on Twitter, Bolsonaro said that technology advances and reduced cost barriers to space technology projects along with the proliferation of startups offering services based on satellites mean opportunities for universities and independent study groups in Brazil.

Such satellite-based services would include applications in logistics, agriculture, weather forecasting, as well as communication between people and equipment in remote or rural locations.

“There is no shortage of demand around [space launches],” Bolsonaro added.

According to Bolsonaro, the original proposals around developing the Brazilian space technology  industry were edited “to avoid ambiguity and reduce fears around a possible loss of national sovereignty.” The latter has been the main point of contention around moving forward in Congress with any partnerships between Brazil and other countries in the space technology realm.

Bolsonaro added that the Congress “will need to absorb the idea” and approve it if it considers valid. Science and technology minister Marcos Pontes, the country’s first astronaut, was part of Bolsonaro’s delegation to Washington and also signed the agreement.

Since the launch of the country’s space agency in the mid-1990s, capabilities in that regard have improved, although they are still modest by the standards of countries such as the US and Russia.

Brazil launched its first own satellite in 2017; the project got government backing in 2013 after revelations around spying on Brazil through the US National Security Agency became public in 2013 and national security concerns became a more serious matter.

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