WASHINGTON — The United States and Brazil signed a framework agreement March 19 that builds on a 15-year-old space exploration accord and expands cooperative efforts in climate monitoring and exploration systems over the next 20 years.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inked the agreement during Obama’s three-day state visit to the South American country March 19-21, according to a joint U.S.-Brazil statement the White House issued March 19.

The “Framework Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space” calls on the two countries to identify potential areas for collaboration in Earth science, observation, and monitoring; space science; exploration systems; and space operations, among others. These efforts would utilize spacecraft, sounding rockets, aircraft and ground-based systems, according to a copy of the agreement posted on Brazil’s official government website.

In the joint statement, Rousseff lauded the emphasis on international space cooperation in the new U.S. national space policy unveiled last year. The two sides affirmed a commitment to security in space while directing relevant government agencies in each country to discuss establishing a Brazil-U.S. working group on satellite-based Earth observations, environmental monitoring, precipitation measurement, and natural disaster mitigation and response.

NASA spokesman Michael Braukus said the new framework agreement enables government agencies, particularly NASA and the Brazilian Space Agency, to develop and conduct cooperative projects.

“NASA and Brazil are currently engaged in cooperative activities in the field of space geodesy and are discussing potential joint studies related to the Earth’s ozone layer and other aspects of space-based environmental measurement,” he said in a March 25 email. “There are no plans in the near-term that may lead to development of hardware or exchanges of hardware between NASA and Brazil.”

However, the two sides did say they would consider negotiating a new agreement “to protect launching operation technologies,” according to the joint statement.

Brazil opened the door to space-related cooperation with the United States in the 1990s when it joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), overhauled its military-controlled space program to establish a civilian space agency and enacted a law to control sensitive technology exports.

Although these changes paved the way for a 1996 U.S.-Brazil framework agreement covering a wide range of cooperative activities, including Brazilian participation in the international space station, that accord did not include space launch technologies.

In April 2000 the two countries signed a Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) to permit launches of U.S. satellite hardware from Brazilian territory, but the Brazilian Senate failed to ratify the accord due to sovereignty concerns.

“Since then Brazil has sporadically sought U.S. views on various informal renegotiation proposals,” states a January 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable disclosed by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The latest effort by the Brazilian government occurred in September 2005, when it sought U.S. approval for a unilateral declaration from Brasilia, the cable says.

“We responded in November 2005 that we would be prepared to work on this basis, as long as the total TSA package preserves sufficient technical and legal safeguards, including on the political level, to address our proliferation concerns,” the cable states, adding that U.S. officials insisted that Brazil provide the State Department with a formal renegotiation request, including specific wording of the unilateral decree. “Brazil has not raised the issue since that November 2005 discussion.”

John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute here, said the new U.S.-Brazil framework agreement acknowledges Brazil’s growing role in space.

“This recognizes that Brazil is an emerging space power and that the United States would like to be the primary ally of Brazil as it develops its space capabilities,” Logsdon said in a March 22 interview.

Logsdon said while the United States has cooperated with Brazil on satellite programs, it has taken issue with Brazil’s military-controlled launch vehicle development program.

“On the other hand, Brazil’s launch site is very close to the equator, which is for many purposes a good launch site, and other countries, particularly Ukraine and Russia, have been talking to Brazil about cooperation in launch for a long time,” he said. “So the United States may be a late comer because we have cited MTCR as an issue in working with Brazil in launch vehicles. The U.S. position is that there need to be technology safeguards that would allow, for example, U.S. payloads to go on Brazilian launch vehicles.”

Brazil has yet to successfully launch a satellite into orbit.

Until recently, Brazil’s space program had been on hold following a 2003 accident at its Alcantara launch site that killed 21 people. Last year a Brazilian-Ukrainian joint venture broke ground on a launch pad at Alcantara for Ukraine’s Cyclone 4 launcher. Dubbed the Ukraine-Brazil Alcantara Cyclone Space Binational Company, the joint venture aims to launch its first commercial payload atop the medium-class rocket next year.

“In 2012, the first launch of Cyclone 4 from Brazil’s Alcantara spaceport is scheduled, and we will deliver our first batch of hardware to Brazil in the near future,” Alexander Degtyrev, general director of Cyclone builder Yuzhnoye State Design Office of Ukraine, said in January interview with Space News. “I should mention here that Ukraine is committed to observing the [U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations] and is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Our activities are guided by these rules and regulations and we abide by them.”