| KOUROU, French Guiana, March 22
KOUROU, French Guiana, March 22 Brazil is
developing technology to send domestically-made satellites into
space with its own rockets by the end of the decade, aerospace
executives and officials said ahead of the launch of the
nation's first defense and communications satellite.
The launch of the French-made satellite, the first project
of its kind led by Brazil's private sector, was originally set
for Tuesday but rescheduled for Thursday evening due to protests
around the lift-off site in French Guyana.
The 5.8-tonne geostationary satellite will beam broadband
internet from an altitude of 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) to
remote parts of the South American nation and provide secure
communication channels for military and government personnel.
The mission took on new urgency after revelations in 2013
that the U.S. National Security Administration had eavesdropped
on Brazil's president at the time.
"We cannot guarantee Brazil's sovereignty as long as our
defense communications are being carried by other countries'
satellites," said Jose Raimundo Braga Coelho, president of the
Brazilian Space Agency. "Brazil is a gigantic country and we
need Brazilian satellites watching over it."
The launch marks a renewed effort to expand Brazil's
long-standing aeronautics industry into space, with Embraer SA
, the world's third-largest commercial planemaker,
seeking to consolidate a local supply chain.
Embraer subsidiary Visiona, a joint venture with state-run
telecom Telebras, served as the prime contractor on the 1.3
billion reais ($420 million) satellite. Visiona subcontracted
assembly to French group Thales SA, which also trained
dozens of Brazilian engineers, and hired Arianespace for the
While Brazilian industry made a small fraction of the new
satellite, it could provide most of the content for a smaller
class of satellite, weighing about 100 kilograms (220 pounds)
and orbiting around 1,000 kilometers high, according to Visiona
Chief Executive Eduardo Bonini.
Bonini said a "micro-satellite" of that kind, which Visiona
would be able launch within two or three years, could serve key
missions in Brazil, from tracking hydroelectric reservoirs and
deforestation to monitoring its remote 17,000-km border.
Coelho said researchers at Brazilian air and space institute
IAE are also developing proprietary rocket technology that could
deliver micro-satellites into low orbit by 2019.
"The demand is there," Bonini said. "It's just a matter of
the government setting priorities."
Prioritizing Brazil's space program has gotten tougher in
recent years as the country struggled with what is now its worst
recession on record and the government embarked on an austerity
program that has hit defense and research spending.
While Visiona awaits definition of Brazil's next satellite,
Bonini said he is seeking more stable revenue sources, such as
contracts for processing images from arrays of micro-satellites.
Visiona booked about 8 million reais in sales from that
service alone last year, he said.
"We're learning how to face the valley after the peak," he
said, referring to the space industry's dramatic revenue cycles.
($1 = 3.098 reais)
(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Paul Simao)