Brazil calls on Virgin Orbit to set up nation’s first orbital launch capabilities

The Alcântara launch center in Brazil, which will soon host the launch services of Virgin Orbit.

Brazil is a further step towards establishing national orbital-class launch capabilities. Wednesday, the Brazilian space agency (AEB) and Brazilian Air Force signed a contract with Virgin orbit to establish commercial launch services at the 39-year-old Alcântara spaceport on the north coast of Brazil.

Virgin Orbit will use Alcântara’s existing infrastructure to perform launches. Its LauncherOne rocket and custom 747-aircraft “launch pad” will take off from the existing Alcântara air base and land at other Virgin facilities.

Built in 1982, Alcântara is located just two degrees south of the equator, a location that makes it one of the few continental space ports in the world capable of reaching any orbital tilt. Despite this, the spaceport has remained mostly inactive due to past launch failures, a number of failed international partnerships, and the proximity to the much more active European spaceport in French Guiana.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attempted to launch the country’s space program in March 2019, when the government officially opened the Alcântara spaceport to US satellite launches. If Virgin Orbit succeeds in setting up launch services, Alcântara would become the second orbital-class spaceport in all of South America, and only the fifth in the entire southern hemisphere.

AEB President Carlos Moura said Alcântara has unlimited and unlocked potential as a spaceport.

“Alcântara is one of the most ideal places in the world to launch rockets,” Moura said. “It’s close to the equator, which increases the payload capacity of the launcher, and allows a wide range of azimuths for launches, with access to all orbits. When we put the center into operation, we will overcome a historic challenge for the program, which means a commitment to Brazil and the global community towards ever greater achievements for humanity.

Financial details of the contract were not disclosed and no timeline was given for the start of launches. Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said his company was ready to haul the ground equipment needed to begin the launch.

“The people of Brazil have been working patiently and diligently on the orbital launch for many years now, and it will be a tremendous honor to help make this vision a national reality,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “The space launch will bring key capability to the nation and the space community, while helping to meet the long-standing needs of the local community.”

Earlier this year, Virgin Orbit successfully introduced LauncherOne as the first liquid-fuel, air-powered orbital-class rocket to reach space.


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