Aerospace exploration in Brazil: the Alcântara Space Center

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Adriana Simões
Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr e Quiroga, São Paulo

Thaiana Tavares Labolita
Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr e Quiroga, São Paulo


The Alcântara Space Center (also know as the Alcântara Base) was created in 1983, when the Alcântara Launch Center Nucleus (NUCLA) was established to provide logistical and local infrastructure support, as well as ensuring security for work to be developed in the area of Brazil’s future space centre.[1]

The Alcântara Base is located in the town of Alcântara, within 30 kilometres from the City of São Luís, State of Maranhão. By reason of its unique characteristics, the area is considered by technicians as one of the world’s best sites for orbital and suborbital launches. This is due to the:

  • 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.

Despite its potential, the Alcântara Base has remained intact and unused for several years, as Brazil had not yet signed the necessary agreements for the viability of its exploration.

Technology Safeguards Agreement between Brazil and the United States

Seeking to make the economic exploration of the Alcântara Base feasible, on 18 March 2019, Brazil signed the Technology Safeguards Agreement with the United States, effective from 16 December 2019 and ratified by the Decree No 10, 220 of 5 February 2020.[2]

The matter dealt with by the Agreement had already been debated at the start of the millennium, when an earlier arrangement was discussed by the two countries. At the time, the then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso even signed the proposed agreement, which was later rejected by the National Congress. It was the Congress’s understanding that the provisions of the first agreement would affect Brazilian sovereignty by 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 US use, as well as restricting access to Brazilians.

The current Agreement was examined and accepted by the National Congress, which understood that the proposed wording did not violate Brazilian sovereignty, protecting technologies and patents of the parties involved against unauthorised access, use or copy – a standard agreement in the space area.

The Alcântara Base remains under the exclusive control of Brazil’s government, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence, with the participation of Brazilian Space Agency (BSA), and all activities at the Alcântara Base shall be supervised by Brazilian agencies. For instance, US participants will be subject to Brazil immigration and customs control to enter the country in order to access the Alcântara Base, as applicable.

Key features and purpose of the Agreement

The execution of the Agreement is of utmost importance for the start of activities from the Alcântara Base, a precedent condition for the launching of space objects equipped with North American components.

Additionally, according to BSA, without the execution of the Agreement no satellite with North American technology would 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 per cent of the space market uses North American technology, the absence of a technological protection agreement would deeply limit the use of the Brazilian base.[3]

Also, as it is a reciprocal agreement, it has the stamp of protecting Brazilian technology and patents against unauthorised use or copying.

The main objectives of the Agreement are, therefore, to:

  • enable the commercial use of the Alcântara Base by governments or private companies;

  • protect intellectual property, avoiding unauthorised access, copying or transfer of US and Brazilian technologies;

  • seek the greatest convergence possible of interests between its parties, via negotiation;

  • establish a basic and referential instrument to produce specific procedural standards; and

  • incorporate legal instruments and agreements signed by the parties.

Unless otherwise agreed between Brazil and the US, the Agreement only allows 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. In addition, the Agreement does not contemplate the launching of war missiles.

The Agreement is intended to enable the broad exploration of the Alcântara Base, which may, in turn, be used as a means of obtaining financial return, to be reinvested in the Brazilian Space Programme (BSP). Therefore, the US will allow Brazil to launch the rockets and satellites of other nationalities that have US components and, in exchange for such authorisation, Brazil will guarantee protection of US technology so that it is not copied.

The first steps to start the economic exploration of the Alcântara Base

On 25 May 2020, the BSA published the process for contracting the use of the Alcântara Base,[4] to carry out the initial negotiations with domestic or foreign companies interested in using the goods and services for the orbital and suborbital launching of non-military space vehicles. It outlines all necessary steps for the beginning of their exploration. This process for contracting, which is under development, comprises the following stages:

Public call

The purpose of this stage is to identify companies interested in launching activities through the Alcântara Base, as well as providing more information about the contractual process and to receive registrations from companies interested in the exploration of the Alcântara Base.

Operator’s licence process

At this stage, the BSA will begin its licensing process, which is intended to qualify the interested legal entity to perform space launch operations from Brazil, according to the procedures established by Ordinance No 182, of 28 May 2020.[5]

Contractual process and release authorisation process

The contractual and release authorisation processes are considered as separate steps, which may be conducted simultaneously, at the company’s discretion.

In this phase, the company shall submit its initial proposal, to be analysed by the Special Commission of Analysis, composed of members of BSA and the Aeronautical Command (COMAER), to be established by act of the President of BSA. The agreement negotiations will be handled by representatives of COMAER, established by act of the Chief of Staff of Aeronautics (EMAER). The agreement will be then signed by and between the qualified company and COMAER.

Alcântara Base launch operation

After the completion of all the above steps, the exploration of activities will begin according to the executed agreement with COMAER. BSA will be responsible for carrying out site security inspections, as part of its acknowledgement of supervising non-military space activities from the Brazilian territory.

This undergoing process for contracting was of interest to 11 companies that intend to explore the Alcântara Base commercially.[6] If all these companies receive the proper authorisations to start their launch activities and succeed in launching from the Alcântara Base, Brazil could gain an international position as a strategic launch site. Furthermore, its use is expected to attract investment, develop a high value-added productive chain, induct economic activities in support of launch services, leverage of the services sector, including space tourism and increase of tax collection in that region of Brazil.

In addition, this has just been the first process for contracting aiming at the promotion of the Alcântara Base’s economic activities and BSA expects to open new processes in the next few years.


In little over a year after the signing of the Agreement, Brazil is managing to make great strides in promoting the development of the Alcântara Base, as well as to commence space exploration. With a promising future and a forecasted positive impact in Brazilian economy, many launches are expected to take place in the near future.

Finally, it is important to highlight that the exploration of the Alcântara Base is an initiative that meets the interests of the BSP as the terms of the Agreement allow the use of the resources generated from its exploration to the development and improvement of the BSP, which has, as its main objective, the launching of Brazilian rockets.



[1] Brazil Department of Aerospace, Science and Technology, ‘History of the Alcântara Launch Center’, available at: www2.fab.mil.br/cla/index.php/historias, last accessed 28 September 2020 (in Portuguese).

[2] Decree No 10, 220, of 5 February 2020, available at: www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2019-2022/2020/decreto/D10220.htm, last accessed 28 September 2020 (in Portuguese).

[3] Brazilian Air Force, Ministry of Defence, ‘Public hearing presents the technology safeguards agreement signed with the U.S.’, 23 March 2019, available at: www.fab.mil.br/noticias/mostra/33680/ESPA%C3%87O%20-%20Audi%C3%AAncia%20p%C3%BAblica%20apresenta%20o%20acordo%20de%20salvaguardas%20tecnol%C3%B3gicas%20assinado%20com%20os%20EUA, last accessed 28 September 2020 (in Portuguese).

[4] Brazil, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, ‘AEB receives proposals from companies registered in the Public Call’, 7 August 2020, available at: www.gov.br/aeb/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/aeb-recebe-propostas-das-empresas-inscritas-no-chamamento-publico, last accessed 28 September 2020 (in Portuguese).

[5] Available at: www.in.gov.br/en/web/dou/-/portaria-n-182-de-28-de-maio-de-2020-259409306 (text in Portuguese). Accessed on 28 September 2020

[6] Brazil, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, ‘Proposals of the companies registered in the Public Call are evaluated by the AEB’ 1 September 2020, available at: www.gov.br/aeb/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/propostas-das-empresas-inscritas-no-chamamento-publico-sao-avaliadas-pela-aeb, last accessed 28 September 2020 (in Portuguese).

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