Brazilian Space Agency issues a public call for companies to work at Alcântara Space Center
The Public Call was opened for those interested in orbital and suborbital launch activities
The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) published, on May 25, 2020, the process for contracting the use of the Alcântara Base to carry out the initial negotiations with domestic or foreign companies that are interested in using the goods and services for the orbital and suborbital launching of non-military space vehicles, outlining all the necessary steps for the beginning of their exploration.
The Alcântara Base is located in the municipality of Alcântara, 30 km from São Luís, Maranhão. The Public Call accepted registrations until July 31, 2020, and Mattos Filho’s specialists highlight the stages involved in this important action below:
The purpose of this stage is to identify the national or foreign companies that are interested in launching activities through the Alcântara Base, as well as to provide more information about the contractual process.
Interested companies must demonstrate their willingness by filling out a form with their basic information, the concept of operation in Brazil, the vehicle, and the intended launch operation. At this first stage, the foreign company does not need to present the Brazilian corporate taxpayer identification number (in Portuguese, Cadastro Nacional da Pessoa Jurídica – CNPJ).
After validation of the registration, AEB will contact the interested party to celebrate a Non-Disclosure Agreement – NDA and deliver the Alcântara Base User Manual and an initial proposal model, with the suggested outline for the operation.
Operator’s license process
At this stage, AEB will begin the licensing process, which aims to qualify the interested legal entity to perform space launch operations from Brazil according to the regulation.
Contractual Process and Launching Authorization Process
This step is divided into two different processes (contractual and launching authorization), which can be conducted simultaneously, at the company’s discretion.
After the registration of the interested company, execution of the NDA, and receipt of the Alcântara Base User Manual, the company may submit its initial proposal to be analyzed by a committee established by AEB. The deadline for submission of the initial proposal of the company will be approximately one month after the closing of the Public Call, around August 31, 2020.
The proposals will be analyzed by the Special Commission of Analysis, with members of AEB and the Aeronautical Command (COMAER), to be established by the President of AEB. The agreement negotiations will be handled by representatives of COMAER, established by the Chief of Staff of Aeronautics (EMAER). The agreement will be then signed between the qualified company and COMAER.
Alcântara Base Launch Operation
After the completion of all the above-mentioned steps, the activities will begin according to the executed agreement with COMAER. AEB will be liable for carrying out security inspections of the site, as part of its attribution to supervise non-military space activities from the Brazilian territory.
Technology Safeguards Agreement between Brazil and the United States
For many years, the Alcântara Base remained intact and unused, despite its potential.
Seeking to make the economic exploration of the Alcântara Base feasible, on March 18, 2019, Brazil signed the Technology Safeguards Agreement with the United States of America, effective as from December 16, 2019, and ratified by a Presidential decree on February 5, 2020. The Agreement is expected to bring many benefits to Brazil.
Because of its unique characteristics, the Alcântara Base is located in an area considered by technicians as one of the best in the world for orbital and suborbital launches, due to:
- privileged location of the available sites, approximately 2º18′ south of the equator;
- proximity to the sea, which allows launches in polar and equatorial orbits;
- low population density;
- absence of earthquakes and hurricanes;
- low air traffic density; and
- climatic regularity.
The subject was already debated at the beginning of the millennium when an earlier agreement was discussed by both countries. At the time, the then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso even signed the proposed agreement, which was later rejected by the National Congress.
According to the National Congress, the first agreement would impact the Brazilian sovereignty for allowing the assignment of the territory or control of the Alcântara Base by the US or another country, or even for the guarantee of exclusive use by the US, besides the restriction of access to Brazilians.
The Agreement in force today was analyzed and accepted by the National Congress, which understood that there was no violation of Brazilian sovereignty, protecting technologies and patents of the parties against unauthorized access, use, or copy – a standard agreement in the space industry.
The Alcântara Base will remain under the exclusive control of the Brazilian government, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, with the participation of AEB, and all activities at the Alcântara Base will take place under the supervision of Brazilian agencies – for example, US participants will be subject to Brazilian immigration and customs control, as applicable.
Aspects and purpose of the Agreement
The execution of the Agreement is of utmost importance for the start of activities at the Alcântara Base, being considered a precondition for the launching of space objects that contain North American components.
Additionally, according to AEB, without the execution of the Agreement, no satellite with North American technology could be launched from the Alcântara Base, considering that there would be no guarantee of protection of the technology patented by the country. Taking into consideration that currently 80% of the space market uses North American technology, the absence of a technological protection agreement would limit the use of the Brazilian base.
Also, as it is a reciprocal agreement, it has the stamp of protecting Brazilian technology and patents against unauthorized use or copying.
Thus, the main objectives of the Agreement are to:
- enable the commercial use of the Alcântara Base by governments or private companies;
- avoid unauthorized access, copying, or transfer of US and Brazilian technologies;
- seek the greatest possible convergence of interests between the two countries via negotiation;
- establish a basic and referential instrument to produce specific procedural standards; and
- incorporate legal instruments and agreements signed by the parties.
However, the Agreement only authorizes the exploration of the Alcântara Base by countries that are signatories to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal association of countries that combat the proliferation of missiles capable of launching weapons of mass destruction, unless otherwise agreed between Brazil and the USA. In addition, the Agreement does not address the launching of war missiles.
In short, the Agreement will enable the broad exploration of the Alcântara Base and will give Brazil the possibility of financial return so that it can reinvest in the Brazilian Space Program (PEB). Thus, the US will allow Brazil to launch rockets and satellites of other nationalities that have American components, and, in exchange for this authorization, Brazil will guarantee the protection of American technology so that it is not copied.
Development of the Brazilian Space Program
The exploration of the Alcântara Base should generate resources that will enable the prospection and development of space activities, allowing the entry of the Alcântara Base in the global market of cargo launching to outer space.
Moreover, its use is expected to attract investments, develop a high value-added productive chain, induct economic activities in support of launch services, and leverage the services sector, including space tourism and increase of tax collection in that region of the country.
Finally, it is important to highlight that the exploration of the Alcântara Base is an initiative that meets the interests of the PEB since the terms of the Agreement allow the use of the resources generated from its exploration to the development and improvement of the PEB, which has, as its main goal, the launching of Brazilian rockets – a task that has not been successful in its last three attempts.
It is worth mentioning that the use of such resources for the acquisition, development, production, testing, employment, or use of missiles capable of launching weapons of mass destruction is prohibited.
For further information about the work at the Alcântara Base, contact the Mattos Filho Aviation practice.