Brazil's Space Program
The Space Program
Brazil has the most advanced space program in Latin America, with
significant capabilities in launch vehicles, launch sites, and satellite
manufacturing. In an attempt to build a Satellite Launch Vehicle (Veículo Lançador de Satélite--VLS),
Brazil has since 1964 developed a series of sounding (research)
rockets, named Sonda I, II, III, and IV. The early Sondas were test-launched
from Barreira do Inferno (literally, "Barrier of Hell")
Launch Center (Centro de Lançamento da Barreira do Inferno),
near the city of Natal in the Northeast (Nordeste). The Sonda IV rocket was tested successfully on April
28, 1989. Subsequent launches were made from the Alcântara
Launching Center (Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara--CLA),
in Maranhão, President
Sarney's home state. The CLA, officially dedicated on February
21, 1990, cost more than US$470 million to develop. It is the closest
launch center to the equator in the world (2.3 degrees south of
the equator), making it attractive for launches of geostationary
satellites. For example, because it is so close to the equator it
provides a 25 percent fuel savings compared with Cape Kennedy.
On February 9, 1993, the first satellite developed entirely in
Brazil, the Data-Collecting Satellite (Satélite de Coleta
de Dados--SCD-1), was launched from a United States B-52 plane carrying
a Pegasus rocket made by the American Orbital Science Corporation.
The SCD-1, sometimes referred to as the "green" satellite,
is used by INPE agencies, such as the Weather Forecasting and Climate
Studies Center (Centro de Previsão do Tempo e Estudos Climáticos--CPTEC),
for collecting meteorological and environmental data on the Amazon
region, including the levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere. The data are transmitted to the INPE (National
Institute of Space Research) and are used for monitoring forest
fires. More than thirty companies were involved in the construction
of the SCD-1, with the INPE providing most of the electronic hardware
equipment. The SCD-2, which was scheduled to be launched by a Brazilian-made
rocket, will also be used to collect environmental data. Brazil
is also developing the Remote Sensing Satellite (Satélite
de Sensoriamento Remoto--SSR-1).
On July 6, 1988, Brazil signed an agreement with China that calls
for the joint development (between the INPE and the Chinese Space
Agency) of two earth-imaging satellites to be launched by a Long
March Chinese rocket from the Shanxi Launching site. Known as the
China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (Satélite Sino-Brasileiro
de Recursos Terrestres--CBERS), the high-resolution CBERS will collect
data from the entire planet and will be used for agriculture, geology,
hydrology, and the environment. The Sino-Brazilian agreement was
inactive from 1988 through 1991 because of Brazil's lack of funds.
In October 1991 and November 1994, Brazil and China signed additional
agreements for the construction of the satellites, worth US$150
million. The CBERS-1 was scheduled to be launched in May 1997.
The Brazilian Telecommunications Company (Empresa Brasileira de
Telecomunicacões--Embratel), a state-controlled agency in
charge of the Brazilian Satellite Communication System (Sistema
Brasileiro de Comunicação por Satélites--SBTS),
owns and operates a series of satellites that are positioned in
geostationary orbit over the equator. Arianespace, a French space
and defense partner of France's Aérospatiale group, launched
the first two Brasilsat satellites in February 1985 and March 1986.
Until 1994 the military directed most of the space program through
the Ministry of Aeronautics, which is in charge of the CTA. Created
in 1950, the CTA is involved in research and development for the
aerospace programs of the FAB (Brazilian Air Force). In 1965 the
FAB created the Space Activities Center (Instituto de Atividades
Espaciais--IAE), one of several institutes within the CTA, to develop
rockets. Since its creation, the IAE has tested more than 2,000
In 1971 a joint civilian-military committee, the Brazilian Commission
for Space Activities (Comissão Brasileira de Atividades Espaciais--Cobae),
was established and placed under the CSN (National Security Council).
Cobae was chaired by the head of the Armed Forces General Staff
(Estado-Maior das Forças Armadas--EMFA) and was in charge
of the Complete Brazilian Space Mission (Missão Espacial
Completa Brasileira--MECB). The MECB was created in 1981 to coordinate
launch vehicles, launch sites, and the manufacturing of satellites.
On the civilian side, the MECB is headed by the INPE. Established
in 1971, the INPE replaced the National Commission for Space Activities
(Comissão Nacional de Atividades Espaciais--CNAE). The INPE
is subordinate to the Ministry of Science and Technology and roughly
the CTA's counterpart. The INPE develops satellites and conducts
space and meteorological research. It has also been developing engines
using liquid propellants since 1988, but with mixed results.
Within Brazil's MECB, civilians have been primarily responsible
for satellite production, and the armed forces have been in charge
of developing launch pads and rockets. Despite this division of
labor, the armed forces were the dominant actors in the MECB, at
least through 1993. Military officers occupied most of the high-ranking
positions in the MECB.
In an attempt to place the MECB more firmly in the hands of civilians,
Brazil's President Itamar Franco signed a bill on February 10, 1994,
creating the Brazilian Space Agency (Agência Espacial Brasileira--AEB).
The AEB replaced Cobae, which acted merely as an advisory body and
had no staff. The AEB, a semi-autonomous agency, has its own staff
and responsibilities for policy implementation. It is led by a civilian,
who is under the direct control of the president. The AEB oversees
the MECB, but the Ministry of Aeronautics is still in charge of
launch facilities and launch vehicles, and the INPE continues to
direct the development of satellites. It remains to be seen, therefore,
whether the AEB can effectively oversee the various ministries involved
in the MECB.
The AEB was created in part to deflect criticism from the United
States government, which viewed with alarm the involvement of Brazil's
military in the MECB. The United States played a central role in
the development of Brazil's MECB, beginning with its financial and
technological support for the CTA and the INPE. In 1966 the United
States supplied sounding rockets, which were launched subsequently
by Brazil. Based on that technology, Brazil later developed larger
boosters of its own.
The ties between Brazil and the United States were generally along
functional lines within the two governments. The United States National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) worked with the INPE,
sharing data, helping to develop and implement scientific experiments,
and training the institute's technicians and scientists. Likewise,
the United States Air Force worked with Brazil's Ministry of Aeronautics
and established a number of data-exchange agreements with the CTA
that covered such matters as weather forecasting.
Brazil no longer relies as heavily on the United States for space
technology. In 1981 it unveiled the MECB, an ambitious US$1 billion
program with the aim of attaining self-sufficiency in space technology.
At that time, Brazil committed itself to launching a series of four
Brazilian-made satellites (two for weather forecasting and two for
terrain photography) from Alcântara.
In further moves away from dependence on the United States, in
the 1980s Brazil took steps to become self-sufficient in the production
of ammonium perchlorate, an oxidizer for solid fuels. In addition
to its indigenous research and development, Brazil now cooperates
in its space program with Canada, the European Space Agency (ESA),
Russia, France, and especially China. One joint satellite project
with China is the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite. Brazil
is also seeking space cooperation with new partners, such as Israel.
In the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, many United States policy
makers were concerned with Brazil's MECB because of the possibility
of diverting space-launch technology to a ballistic missile program.
Although by mid-1997 Brazil had not produced a ballistic missile,
its military had given high priority to the development of several
missile systems, including the Piranha missile (MAA-1). Brazil's
space-launch program, coupled with its artillery rocket technology,
suggests that the country has the potential to develop advanced
missiles, including ballistic missiles.
From 1987 to 1994, the United
States sought to stifle the development of Brazil's ballistic
missile program through the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR--see
Glossary), formed on April 16, 1987. Given Brazil's advanced nuclear
program, the United States was especially concerned that a potential
Brazilian ballistic missile could eventually serve as a vehicle
for a nuclear warhead. The United States restrictions on space technology
to Brazil stalled Brazil's VLS (Satellite Launch Vehicle) program
and ballistic missile research and development, strained United
States security relations with Brazil, and prompted Brazil to explore
closer ties with China, Russia, and various countries in Europe
and the Middle East (especially Iraq). In October 1995, for example,
Brazil offered Russia the use of its Alcântara base, to launch
On February 11, 1994, Brazil announced that it would comply with
MTCR guidelines. Such compliance would include export controls on
Brazilian space and missile goods and technology. Brazil's accession
to the MTCR coincided with various attempts by the United States
to cooperate in space activities and seemed to signal a new era
in space relations. Brazil's application for MTCR membership was
accepted in October 1995. Thus, by the end of 1995 Brazil's space
capabilities were improving, although they were modest by the standards
of countries such as the United States and Russia.
Data as of April 1997