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Equator Space Launch Plan

Russia is active in developing Brazil's Alcantara space center. In their day, Russian specialists developed the world's first system of launch preparations -- from transporting the rocket to the pad to launching it -- that made the presence of personnel on site unnecessary. This makes Russian launching facilities the safest in the world.
by Yury Zaitsev
Moscow (RIA Novosti) April 26, 2007
Russia and Brazil have always seen eye-to-eye on such issues as the importance of a multipolar world and the United Nations' role in modern society, and this mutual understanding is a key factor in relations between the two countries in other areas, too.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that "we can cooperate in many fields, and one of them is high technologies, above all the peaceful uses of outer space."

Russia has signed an intergovernmental agreement with Brazil on space cooperation, and this has given the South American country a kind of political boost in space studies and joint commercial projects.

The agreement is also important for the observance of the non-proliferation regime because it covers all aspects of the transfer of intellectual property and rocket technology. Lastly, cooperation with such a leading space power as Russia lends credibility to Brazil's rocket and space efforts in the eyes of the international community.

When, in August 2003, a Brazilian VLS-1 rocket exploded on its launch pad, Russia was the first to send a team of experts to investigate. Their findings proved very helpful in pinpointing the causes of the blast and planning measures to help prevent a repeat.

Currently, Russian specialists are helping the country to "go over to a new format" for launch safety and rocket technology. Brazil is converting from solid-fueled engines, by way of mixed fuels, to liquid-propelled rockets, while at the same time gradually building up the power of its rockets to ensure delivery of payloads to geostationary orbits.

Russia's liquid rocket engines are the best in the world. The Americans buy them for installation on their heavy Atlas launch vehicles. Japan, too, uses Russian engines. Now Russian specialists are taking part in the modernization of the VLS-1. The upgraded Brazilian rocket is expected to orbit three communications satellites in 2010.

Russia is active in developing Brazil's Alcantara space center. In their day, Russian specialists developed the world's first system of launch preparations -- from transporting the rocket to the pad to launching it -- that made the presence of personnel on site unnecessary. This makes Russian launching facilities the safest in the world.

Brazil is very much interested in commercial launches from Alcantara, using both home- and foreign-built vehicles and promising good business for the parties involved, Russia included. The center's geographic location is better than those of other countries in higher latitudes. Alcantara's proximity to the equator, where the Earth rotates more quickly, allows the weight of payloads sent aloft to be increased by 30 percent to 40 percent.

A wide choice of launch azimuths, or directions, allows Alcantara to send satellites into any inclination, including very interesting near-polar orbits, without the need for the launch vehicle to fly over densely populated regions.

For a time, the plans to modernize the Alcantara hinged on using a Ukrainian Tsiklon-4 light-class vehicle. True, the "nationality" of the rocket is largely in name only: Its basic components, or first- and second-stage engines, are made in Russia and account for half the rocket's cost.

Russia was also supposed to develop the launch facility. The Tsiklon-4's launch from Alcantara was scheduled for 2005, but, with the rocket being assembled in Ukraine, the Orange Revolution in that country upset all plans. Russia had to suspend its participation in the project, and work had barely resumed when another cabinet crisis hit Ukraine, so the project now faces an uncertain future.

The Kourou space center in French Guiana, which will soon launch a Russian Soyuz-2 vehicle, could become Alcantara's rival in near-equatorial regions in the next few years. Meanwhile, an advanced Russian Angara launch vehicle, burning environmentally clean fuel, could well blast off from the Brazilian space center. This option is currently being considered by Russian and Brazilian experts.

One advantage of Alcantara, apart from good weather, is the possibility of bringing launch vehicles, spacecraft and all the necessary equipment there not only by air, but also by sea. The Angara is of modular construction, and its modules can be assembled to produce a rocket of practically any weight class, including the heavy Russian Proton.

In recent years, Russia has cornered much of the launch-services market thanks to the successful modernization of its launch vehicles. Their power has been increased, orbiting accuracy improved, and environmental standards enhanced. In cost-benefit terms, they are considered the best in the world.

Russia can offer Brazil a great deal to help advance its national space and rocket industry and implement space programs oriented toward conducting research and bringing socioeconomic benefits. At the same time, Russia stands to gain massively from commercial launches at Alcantara, with its excellent location -- a mere 2 degrees from the equator.

Space cooperation between Russia and Brazil pursues no military aims, and both countries are equally interested in developing it because it is a key aspect of their current bilateral relations.

(Yury Zaitsev is an expert with the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

Source: United Press International

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Dulles VA (SPX) Apr 26, 2007
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