LOS ANGELES — Brazil has reaffirmed its commitment to participate in the international space station program with a planned contribution of $10 million over the next four years, according to the South American nation’s top space official.
Sergio Gaudenzi, president of Brazil’s space agency, said the space station plan is among several recommendations that came out of a national conference held in Brazil in late November 2004 to determine the nation’s long-term goals in space. The conference participants, who included senior Brazilian government, congressional and industry officials, also recommended continued work on domestic satellite and launch capabilities, as well as major industry-funded infrastructure upgrades to Brazil’s fledgling Alcantara launch center, Gaudenzi said in a telephone interview in late December.
In 1997, then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin and Luiz Gilvan Meyra Filho, who at the time ran Brazil’s space agency, signed a memorandum of understanding that committed Brazil to contributing as much as $120 million worth of hardware over five years to the space station effort.
Brazil was to have provided six items, the primary one being an unpressurized logistics carrier known as an Express Pallet. The agreement also gave the South American nation the right to send an astronaut to conduct research aboard the orbiting laboratory.
But a series of economic setbacks forced the country to dramatically curtail its original commitment. In 2002, Brazil decided it could not provide the Express Pallet.
Brazil now intends to propose a new agreement to NASA in which the nation would contribute roughly $8 million worth of space station flight support equipment. Unlike the previous arrangement, in which most of Brazil’s $120 million contribution was to have been spent outside the country, all of the flight support equipment funds would be spent in Brazil, according to a knowledgeable source.
Gaudenzi said he hopes to meet with NASA’s administrator early this year to forge a new agreement on Brazilian participation in the space station, whose construction has been on hold since the February 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
In spite of its plans for a significantly reduced contribution, Brazil still hopes to exercise crew privileges aboard the orbiting laboratory, Gaudenzi said.
Since 1998, Brazil has invested over $2.5 million in the training of its own astronaut, Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes. Pontes completed his training in Houston in 2000 and was scheduled to fly as a mission specialist in 2001 with the Express Pallet. When that program was canceled, Pontes remained in Houston awaiting a new flight assignment.
“This is important for us, for him (Pontes) to fly. We want to participate, and his flight will also help to communicate the Brazilian space program to the Brazilian people,” Gaudenzi said.
Other key features of the new Brazilian space plan include the development of a geostationary satellite, further cooperation with Ukraine and Russia aimed at improving Brazil’s VLS rocket, which has yet to launch successfully, and the expansion of Brazil’s Alcantara launch center.
Brazil has big plans for Alcantara. In addition to its ambition to make the facility an international spaceport, the Brazilian space agency envisions Alcantara as an aerospace center that would host a university campus and a complex of space museums.
Gaudenzi said the first steps toward these goals will be taken next year, when Brazil’s Congress votes on a proposal to open competitive bidding to private industry to invest in expanding the site’s basic infrastructure, including roads, port facilities and electricity.
Gaudenzi said it would take three to four years to complete the proposed infrastructure improvements, but that industry can start investing in the project within the next year-and-a-half.
“We will also allow private companies to buy or rent land for development of their projects, including hotels,” Gaudenzi said. “We want to create a great international space tourism and scientific center at Alcantara, with university campuses, labs, hotels and an ecological reserve.”
Last September, Brazil’s Congress appropriated about $5 million to begin engineering work on infrastructure improvements at Alcantara to prepare for future launches of the Ukrainian Cyclone-4 rocket from the center. The funding fulfills a requirement of an agreement between Brazil and Ukraine that was ratified by Brazil’s Congress last year.
A budget to carry out Brazil’s new space program will be proposed at a meeting of the space agency’s superior council Jan. 25, in Brasilia.
Gaudenzi said “$70 million to $80 million will be proposed for Brazil’s space program for 2005, rising to $100 million in 2006.”
The new plan supplants the previous National Plan for Space Activities, which had been in place since 1979. That plan formed the basic blueprint for Brazil’s current program, including the domestic development of satellites, rockets and a national launch center.