Brazil initiated space activities in 1961 with the creation of the Group for the Organization of the National Committee for Space Activities (GOCNAE) through a presidential decree. This body subordinated to the National Research Council and chiefly operated under the auspices of the Air Force. Following the formation of the Brazilian Committee on Space Activities (COBAE) in 1971, GOCNAE was replaced by National Institute of Space Research (INPE) which was tasked to spearhead space technology research. The government was motivated to embrace space technology in order for Brazil to benefit from new advances in space technology and foster its national developmental.
Brazil envisioned application of pace technology for development in managing the country’s:
- vast geographical size
- sparse population
- extensive coastline
- expansive tropical rain forest
- abundant natural resources
Consequently, INPE set its main objectives as developing the prerequisite human capacity in space technology engineering and atmospheric sciences.
Since 1964, Brazil has been involved in long-term launch vehicle development under the SONDA sounding rocket program. A series of SONDA sounding rockets have been developed with the SONDA IV rocket tested successfully in 1989 from the Alcântara Launching Center (CLA). Notably, a rejuvenated effort in the national space initiatives was witnessed starting in 1979 with the Brazilian Complete Space Mission (MECB) program. The MECB program was formed in 1981 to coordinate launch vehicles, launch sites, and the manufacturing of spacecraft. Chief among the outcomes of the MECB program was the construction of the Alcântara Launch Center which began in 1983 and officially dedicated in February 1990. This launch site is suitable for launching geosynchronous satellites because of its close proximity to the equator.
The main launch vehicle for the Brazilian Space Agency is known as Satellite Launch Vehicle (VLS). The VLS has four stages with the first stage consisting of the main core body and four strap-on motors derived from the SONDA sounding rockets. Depending on the configuration it can deploy payloads ranging from 75kg to 380kg into orbits of between 100km to 1000km. The first three VLS prototype launch attempts resulted in failures including loss of life. Presently, the VLS-1 V4 prototype is under development and is anticipated to be launched in 2013.
Upon its inception, the Brazilian space program was primarily managed by the military, however, military control of the Brazilian space program ceased with the formation of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) to promote Brazilian space agenda and coordinate international cooperation in February 1994. The agency was formed within the context of legislation binding Brazil to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) conceived by the G-7 countries to inhibit the proliferation of dual use missile technology.
On the international scene, despite Brazil and China signing an agreement to develop two Earth-imaging satellites, the agreement remained inactive until 1991 because Brazil lacked funds. Further agreements were signed in 1994 and in 1993, the first satellite fully developed in Brazil—Data Collecting Satellite (SCD-1) was launched, and SCD-2 followed in 1998.
Among other space activities, the Brazilian Telecommunications Company (Embratel) owns and operates a series of geostationary communication satellites developed by Canada and launched by Arianespace of Europe in the 1980s. A second generation of satellites was launched in the early to mid 1990s. Presently, Embratel owns and operate five geostationary communication satellites.
In Brazil, the National Policy for the Development of Space Activities (PNDAE) establishes the major principles, objectives and guidelines for Brazilian space pursuits. Space technology activities are then developed within the framework of the National System for the Development of Space (SINDAE) which is guided by PNDAE. The National Program of Space Activities (PNAE) reviews and articulates the components of the SINDAE for a particular duration. The current PNAE covers the period between 2005 and 2014.
The Brazilian space technology program currently consists of eight major initiatives:
- Space Applications
- Satellites and Payloads
- Satellite Launching Vehicles and Sounding Rockets
- Space Infrastructure
- Space Sciences
- R&D on Space Technologies
- Training and Development of Human Resources
- Support to the Qualification of the National Space Industry
The Brazilian space technology initiative aspires to foster national development by utilizing space technology applications in the areas of Earth observation (agriculture, environment, natural resources), communication, meteorology, oceanography and navigation.