Among the companies selected to carry out vehicle launches space orbital and suborbital non-governmental organizations at the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA), in Maranhão, is Virgin Orbit. Billionaire Richard Brason's company uses a Boeing 747 modified to launch rocketsthe LauncherOne.

The announcement was made by the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) in conjunction with the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), responsible for the CLA, on April 28. In addition to Virgin Orbit, two other North American companies, Hyperion and Orion AST, and the Canadian C6 Launch, go on to the contract negotiation phase with Aeronautics.

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“After the ratification of the Technological Safeguards Agreement by the Congress National, this is another great historic step for the development of the Brazilian Space Program, with the objective of making the Alcântara spaceport an international reference, for launches from several countries ”, said the president of AEB, Carlos Moura.

Still according to Moura, the contracts with the companies must be signed by the end of 2021. Virgin Orbit will use the 2,6 km runway from the air base, without any special infrastructure needed for its rockets launched from a plane in flight, the company explained.

LauncherOne acts as a launching pad, with the first stage fully reusable. It can fly hundreds of kilometers before launching rockets directly above the equator or at other locations optimized for each individual mission.

Alcântara Launch Center, FAB
Alcântara is located about 100 kilometers from São Luís, capital of Maranhão. Image: Bianca Viol / FAB

Being just 2º18 ′ from the Equator, Virgin Orbit says that the CLA will become one of the only continental spaceports in the world capable of reaching any orbital inclination. The first LauncherOne flight in Alcântara will transform the Launch Center into the second orbital-class spaceport in all of South America, and only the fifth in the entire southern hemisphere, according to the company itself.

“There is no better place on the planet than Alcântara for an equatorial launch site. And with hundreds of kilometers of cross-reach on our flying launch pad, the potential is limitless. We look forward to working with our colleagues at AEB and FAB to bring this vital new capability to Alcântara, ”said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit.

Hyperion Rocket Systems Inc will operate at the Alcântara Launch Center from the main launch platform, along with C6 Launch and Orion AST. These last two will make launches destined, initially, for the collection of space garbage.

On the day of the announcement, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations, astronaut Marcos Pontes, was also present. “This is a unique moment of alignment between all sectors for the development of our space program. A lot still comes. We have launched, since 2019, four Brazilian satellites and we have entered into international partnerships, such as the Artemis program, from the United States ”, he said.

According to Reuters, the Brazilian space program wants to capture a niche in the global space launch services market, estimated at $ 300 billion a year. Brazil would take the market share for launching small satellites, which is expected to grow to $ 18 billion by 2029, according to consultancy Arcturus Advisors.

The prediction of the president of AEB, Carlos Moura, is that the first orbital flight launched from Brazil will happen in the first half of 2022.

Street: Reuters / Brazilian Space Agency / Virgin Orbit

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