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by Jean-Jacques Serra
Brazil's space activity started in the early sixties with the creation of a space research national commission. It was composed of the space physics lab of Sao José dos Campos and a sounding rocket launch site 20 km south of Natal.

The first Brazilian realization was the Sonda-1 rocket. It weighed 60 kg and could send 4 kg to 60-75 km altitude. In 1966 the 360 kg Sonda-2 could send 45 kg at 80 km altitude. This 30 cm diameter rocket was later used as top stage for the Sonda-3 which could reach 600 km altitude with 60 kg of payload. Sonda-3 was 1.6 tons, 8 m high. It featured a 56 cm diameter first stage. It was first launched on 26 Feb 1976.

The startup of this rocket was soon followed by a US and French embargo on hardware (solid fuel and electronic equipment) needed to build them. Brazil then asked Germany and Taiwan for help to go on with their civilian and military rocket program.

A new sounding rocket (being prepared since 1974 with the help of Germany by the Instituto de Atividades Espacias, later known as Instituto de Aeronautica e Espaco) was launched on 21 Nov 1984 from the Barreira do Inferno launch site. This two-stage rocket was 11 m high. It weighed 7.3 tons at takeoff and reaches 650 km altitude with 500 kg payload. The first stage is 1 m diameter and 7.7 tons. It provides 203 kN thrust (ground level) during 60 seconds. The second stage is 56 cm diameter and provides 95 kN during 28 seconds.

In the mid eighties Brazil started several ballistic missiles programs. The SS-300 (Avibas) had a 300 km range. It was 11.5 m long and 1 m diameter. It weighed 8 tons at takeoff with a 1 ton charge. Several test flights where carried on in 1987 but the program was cancelled in 1989. The MB/EE-150 (Orbita) has 150 km range; it was 12 m long and weighed 4.5 tons with 500 kg of military payload. This program was also cancelled but it contributed to reinforce the embargo on inertial and pyrotechnic components.

VLS (Veiculo Lancador de Satelites)

The VLS launcher was developped by the Orbita company under control of the Centro Tecnico Aerospacial (CTA) and of the Instituto de Aeronautica e Espaco (IAE). It is a 4-stage solid fuel rocket that weighs approx. 50 tons and measures 19 m high. It is made of a central body to which 4 boosters (derived from Sonda-4) are attached. Those boosters are 1 m diameter, 9 m long and weigh 8.5 tons. They provide 309 kN thrust during 60 seconds. The central body has 3 parts of 1 m diameter. The first one is very similar to the boosters with a nozzle adapted to altitude. The second provides 213 kN thrust during 57 seconds while the third provides 34 kN during 68 seconds. The VLS is designed to deliver 200 kg of payload in LEO at 750 km, 25° orbit or at 500 km in sun-synchronous orbit.

A first test of the 1/3 model failed in December 1985. A second one was successful in May 1989. This VLS-R2 confirmed correct separation of the stages. Those tests were made from the Barreira do Inferno base but the VLS should be launched from a new base at Alcantara (2.2° south) from where a Sonda-4 was launched in February 1990. In April 1993 Brazil fired an experimental vehicle (VS-40) made of the last two stages of VLS. The vehicle reached 1248 km altitude.

The VLS program developement is slow due to the embargo which bares importation of the inertial module.

VLS launches

# Launch id Payload Launch Date Site Type Status/Comment (orbit in perigee x apogee x inclination x period)
1 FTO SCD 2A 2 Nov 1997 at 12:25 UT   Failure: one 1-stage motor failed
2 FTO Saci 2 11 Dec 1999 at 19:40 UT   Failure: the second stage failed to ignite
3 FTO Satec
n/a     Exploded on the launch pad before launch on 22 Aug 2003. 21 people were killed. A strap-on booster ignited permaturely (defect?) and destroyed the rocket and the launch pad.
Notes: A: Alcantara, Maranhao state Brazil (2°17' S, 44°23' W)

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