Talks over US commercial use of a rocket launch site in Brazil are advancing and will take center stage during Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Brasilia next week, according to three people familiar with the matter.
While a final agreement is unlikely during his visit, progress has been made in discussions to give US personnel access to the Alcantara base in the north-eastern state of Maranhao, while ensuring sovereignty safeguards to Brazil. Both sides have made concessions and things are moving forward in a positive way, the people said, asking not to be named because talks aren’t public. Discussions are now focused on the financial end of the deal and on technological details, they added.
Alcantara’s proximity to the equator makes it cheaper to launch rockets. The base could generate revenue of up to $1.5 billion per year, according to the Brazilian defense ministry. All previous attempts at commercially exploring the base have failed. In 2015 Brazil ended a partnership with Ukraine to develop a launch vehicle at Alcantara, citing Ukraine’s financial problems. A previous cooperation with the US was rejected by Congress for alleged national sovereignty violations.
“Pence’s trip will boost efforts to reach an agreement that would be of obvious interest for both parties,” Brazil’s foreign minister Aloysio Nunes
Ferreira told Bloomberg, confirming space is a top topic in the agenda. He said that while “you cannot compromise on sovereignty” a final deal would enable both sides to protect
their industrial and technological secrets.
US administration officials familiar with preparations for Pence’s visit said strategic cooperation on a space partnership between the US and Brazil will be an important part of the trip and a topic of a working lunch Pence will have with President Michel Temer.
Pence heads the National Space Council and is seeking to expand the council’s work with international space partnerships. No announcement related to Alcantara was expected during the visit although it is likely to be a subject of discussion, officials said.