Brazil Pitches Alcantara Spaceport to Foreign Launch Providers

Cyclone_4 processing complex under construction at the Alcantara Launch Center in Brazil. (Credit: Alcantara Cyclone Space)

The Brazilian government has been trying to entice foreign launch providers to use the equatorial Alcantara Launch Center. Reuters reports:

Brazil’s defense minister said on Thursday that Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX and other U.S. aerospace companies have expressed interest in launching rockets from its Alcantara military base near the equator and visited the site in December.

“They were very impressed,” Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told reporters. “They showed interest, but I can’t say whether it will materialize.”

Besides SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the Alcantara visit included smaller aerospace U.S. companies Vector Space Systems, which launches small satellites, and Microcosm, which focuses on providing low-cost access to space, an organizer of the trip said.

Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to the United States who organized the visit to the base, said the U.S. companies were eager to use the Alcantara site.

Reuters reports that SpaceX denied interest in launching from the facility, whose location at about 2 degrees from the equator makes it ideal for launching communications satellites to geosynchronous orbit.

Alcantara is used for sounding rocket launches; it has never hosted an orbital launch. Brazil’s effort to develop a domestic launcher has not been successful. In August 2003, the program suffered a major setback when the explosion of a VLS-1 booster killed 21 people at Alcantara.

A joint Brazilian-Ukrainian effort to launch Cylcone-4 boosters from Alcantara collapsed in 2015 after a dozen years of effort. The project left behind partially completed launch infrastructure.

  • Jeff2Space

    The problem with launching from Brazil is the added costs to transport the launch vehicle and payload to the launch site as well as added costs for travel to and from the launch site. With available launch vehicles like Falcon Heavy (which can launch larger payloads than Falcon 9), I would think it would still be cheaper for SpaceX to launch from Florida and Texas than to have to deal with the logistics of launching from a foreign country.

  • Douglas Messier

    The European launch base in French Guiana is a necessity. Europe lacks any beachfront property facing East suitable for launches.. American companies are not in the same boat.

  • duheagle

    I agree that it’s very hard to see any advantage to SpaceX from launching out of Brazil. If SpaceX should ever decide it needs a new launch site closer to the equator than Kennedy/Canaveral or Boca Chica, Puerto Rico would seem the obvious choice. Elon is already well-connected there because of the assistance Tesla provided in the wake of recent hurricane damage to PR’s electrical grid. Considering how bad the PR economy is these days, SpaceX would be greeted with open arms in PR if it indicated any interest in building a new spaceport there.

    I’m sure Reuters has it right about SpaceX’s lack of actual interest. I would, in fact, be quite surprised if SpaceX even sent anyone along on this reported junket. SpaceX being the hot name in space launch these days, I suspect the Brazilian defense minister was just name-dropping in a crude effort to chum the water. Boeing and LockMart have obvious motives in at least presenting the appearance of looking interested in Alcantara – both would like to sell military aircraft to Brazil.

    Brazil has been touted as “The Next Big Thing” for well over a century now. The country has become the nuclear fusion of national development – always 30 years away from being realized. The country continues to make progress, but fitfully and with occasional reverses, political and otherwise. Brazil has managed to build a solid aircraft industry, but seems unable, to this point, to make any substantial foray into space-related industry. It seems unlikely any gringo fairy godfathers are likely to swoop in and jump-start matters either.

  • Michael Halpern

    fully agree on PR actually I think PR was a contender when they were deciding where they would build their first commercial spaceport and logically may remain a contender if (or more likely when) they need a second, which there has been occasional chatter about

  • Revanse

    They could have chosen the Spanish Canary Islands, Portugal’s Madeira archipelago, Malta, Cyprus or Sicily. All are many times closer to mainland Europe and have open waters paths to the east.

    They could also have gone with sea launch, which could be done better than the only example.

    As for Brazil, the US government isn’t going to relax ITAR enough to let US rockets leave from there even if a rocket maker wanted to. They’d offer Guam, Puerto Rico, or Hawaii first.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Puerto Rico isn’t all that farther south 18 deg vs 26 deg for Boca Chica – and BFR don’t really care about equatorial lift advantage. Not to mention, that if Elon’s BFR Airlines ever gains any traction, SpaceX will have loads of launch sites, mostly in international waters – of course, he really wants all those launch sites to be able to lift en masse for each Mars launch opportunity.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    …or if Puerto Rico don’t float their launch site boat, they could use a floating boat instead.

  • Michael Halpern

    They already have enough problems with wind sheer they don’t need waves interfering with launch, Puerto Rico launch site would be a good PR move for Elon, he gave assistance in recovery, giving them a way to make money and fix their economy would be even better

  • Revanse

    BFR airlines is a pipe dream, and this is coming from someone who has rarely doubted any of Musk’s plans. Fully believe hyper-loop is possible, the boring company can make viable tunnels for electric skate vehicles, and BFR will be built within five years, be affordable, and reliable.

    But I draw the line at BFR airlines. It’s ridiculous. If Concorde wasn’t cost effective, BFR air won’t be. Can’t be. The risk – reward – costs, noise, danger, plus ITAR make it unworkable.

    There will be a market for thrill seekers and tourists, and they’ll fly out of Boca Chica. But as a regular transportation method, insane.

  • Michael Halpern

    the difference is concord was bad timing and already cost too much, if its a little more than economy air, P2P BFR can work

  • duheagle

    An extra eight degrees is an extra eight degrees. Plus, PR is close to Florida and is an American territory. The only other American territories closer to the equator are in the Pacific and much smaller. Kennedy, Boca Chica and Puerto Rico, if SpaceX builds its #2 private spaceport there, will be plenty enough to support the Mars project. I don’t think the BFR Airlines infrastructure is on the critical path for that.

  • duheagle

    What Michael H. said. Concorde wasn’t enough faster than subsonic widebodies to make its high price economically rational and had no intercontinental range except between Northern Europe and the U.S. BFR Airlines certainly is no slam dunk, but I see no insuperable economic or technical hurdles. That leaves bureaucratic and political hurdles. Don”t sell Elon short when it comes to dealing with those. BFR Airlines would be along way from being his first rodeo of that kind.

  • duheagle

    The potential difficulties of SpaceX setting up shop in Brazil are moot as the firm has no real incentive to try pushing through them.

    Hawaii would be a poor alternative. The Nativists there, with the passive-aggressive assistance of the state government, have already all but taken the scalp of the 30-Meter Telescope. Any hint that SpaceX wanted to build a spaceport there would certainly trigger more protests and lawfare.

    Guam is essentially a very large, and unsinkable, aircraft carrier these days. I don’t know that a civilian spaceport would prove compatible with all the military aircraft ops going on there 24/7/365.

    Puerto Rico is the obvious choice. It was widely reported to be the runner-up when Boca Chica was selected four years ago. The island’s circumstances have done nothing but deteriorate since. Plus, PR has gotten to know Elon a lot better in the interim. I think PR would be a slam-dunk as a new scratch-built spaceport site for SpaceX. Come to that, there is likely plenty of room for two or more new spaceports there.

  • Michael Halpern

    A big such hurdle was eelv,

  • Michael Halpern

    Iirc one of the big selling points for Texas was Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Gigahertz Astrophysical Transient Emission (college students named it)

  • Michael Halpern

    Best part is PR is relatively close and is “surrounded bt water” which is a pretty big advantage for a spaceport

  • Jeff2Space

    The only possible application I see for BFR in point to point transportation isn’t as an “airline”, it’s as a military transport vehicle. When something absolutely positively has to get to the other side of the planet faster than a C-17 can take it there. I still don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a heck of a lot more likely, IMHO, than “BFR Airlines”.

  • duheagle

    Yes it was. The SpaceX-USAF relationship followed the arc of one of those Hallmark Channel romance movies – the couple-to-be dislike each other at first, but gradually fall in love.

    The SpaceX-NASA relationship has been more like one of those 70’s or 80’s movies where the woman has plans of her own while the man thinks he’s getting a nice little kitchen-dwelling helpmate and the whole thing comes unstuck by the third act.

    NASA has been messing with Elon’s “kids” lately, especially Dragon 2. BFR-BFS is his response. Reminds me a bit of Gloria, where the goombahs plan to knock off a kid Gloria has taken a shine to and don’t take her seriously when she says to back off – until she starts strewing bodies around.

    Elon is Mack the Frackin’ Knife when he needs to be – fancy gloves and all.

  • duheagle

    That’s not going to happen. C-17’s can land on dirt airstrips if they have to. BFS can’t do that.

  • Michael Halpern

    It goes both ways a bit with NASA, most of NASA would prefer to go commercial where possible, but Elon has apparently mentioned block 5 fh will have greater than currently listed preformance and they are considering the option of a stretch s2. Probably to make it’s capabilities even closer if not surpassing SLS

  • Michael Halpern

    Bfs doesn’t have to but it does need fixed infrastructure as such for military transport aircraft will be better unless it’s between two allied and relatively safe locations

  • Michael Halpern

    Bfr needs fixed or semi mobile infrastructure for take off and landing, not always available for military an A380 of passengers at just over economy price for intercontinental however…

    It will work if the price is right

  • Jeff2Space

    That’s why I stuck in “possible” at the beginning of my statement. I personally don’t think it’s very likely.

  • ThomasLMatula

    They chose French Guiana because France was putting the bulk of the funding into ESA at the time.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Why land the entire BSR when it could just deploy a cargo pod with the goods needed? Just like air dropping cargo from a C-17. Or the Mobile Infrantry from Starship Troopers 🙂

  • publiusr

    I’d like to see them do OTRAG…