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Russia begins elbowing Ukraine out from Brazil's space program

MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - "Germany, Brazil and Argentina have all expressed an interest in using the Ukrainian launch vehicle Cyclone-4 for orbiting their satellites," said Eduard Kuznetsov, deputy general director of Ukraine's National Space Agency.

He said protocols were already drawn up for using it in 2011-2014.

Indeed, the Cyclone-4 project is crucial for Ukraine's future. If the project proceeds, it will benefit the Ukrainian space industry considerably.

To implement the project, the Ukrainian-Brazilian joint venture Alcantara Cyclone Space was set up. Its Alcantara space center on the Atlantic coast is close to the equator, and that is Brazil's asset. The first advantage of that closeness is that it creates the best conditions for launching satellites into a so-called geostationary orbit (GSO). The second is safety considerations: in the case of an accident the fragments of a rocket would fall into the ocean.

The technology provides for up to 12 launches per year. But the possible figure is four to five launches: neither Ukraine nor Brazil have a niche for more in their space programs. To break even financially, the minimum number is six launches. In that case, all costs could be recouped within 10 to 12 years, and profits would start coming in.

In 2005, Ukrainian authorities said the rocket engineering specifications had been handed over to the huge Pivdenmash manufacturing facility in Dnepropetrovsk, which began making its parts. The first launch of the Cyclone 4 from Alcantara was scheduled for 2006. But recurring political crises in Ukraine stalled financing. It is now clear that a quantity production of the Cyclone-4 at Pivdenmash will not begin until 2009, and launch facilities for it will be built in Brazil by 2011 at best.

And these are not the only snags. Most important is unstable Russian-Ukrainian relations. Russia is Ukraine's contractor. Most of the space infrastructure is being constructed by Russian industrial enterprises. And first among them is the Design Bureau of Transport Engineering (KBTM), which built launch facilities for Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 at Plesetsk. The first-stage engines of the Ukrainian rocket have been developed by Russia's Energomash. Russia is also responsible for fuel components.

Furthermore, the American aerospace lobby looks askance at Ukraine's efforts to enter the world space market.

Another factor to consider is that Russia has proposed to Brazil they develop an environment-friendly launch vehicle, because Cyclone-4 is not ideal in that respect. It was, incidentally, one of the reasons why Kazakhstan banned the launches of its forerunners from Baikonur: they were using the same aggressive fuel.

When, in August 2003, a Brazilian VLS-1 rocket exploded at launch, Russia was the first and only country to rush in with help. It sent a large team of rocket experts to find out what happened. Their findings have proved very useful both for identifying the causes of the disaster and for planning measures to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

Next, Russian engineers began assisting Brazil for increased safety and improved rocket technologies. Their efforts concerned the gradual conversion from solid-propellant engines to mixed fuel and then to fully liquid-propellant engines, while increasing power.

Russia has the world's best liquid rocket engines. They are regularly purchased even by the Americans to install on their heavy Atlas launchers. Japan also uses Russian rockets. Brazil, however, is more interested in space technology, not ready-made products, because its main objective is to develop its own space rocket industry. Although Russia and Brazil are in different weight classes in space, Russian specialists can profit from suggestions by their Brazilian counterparts.

In the spring of this year, Russia and Brazil concluded an agreement to develop a family of launch vehicles as part of Brazil's Cruzeiro do sul (Southern Cross) program. The Russian-Brazilian technological alliance will develop an all-purpose rocket based on Russia's Angara vehicle plus three types of power units. Two of them are under development with Brazil's full participation and are based on Russian liquid-propellant engines.

The first stages of Brazil's Gamma, Delta and Epsilon launchers will be powered by a unit based on the RD-191 engine developed for Russia's new Angara rocket. The upper stage, which will be the same for all Southern Cross rockets, will be driven by an engine which is currently part of Russia's Molniya launcher. The third stage will be a solid-propellant booster. It has been developed by Brazilian engineers for an upgraded version of the VLS-1 and its modifications.

The Gamma launcher is part of the light-weight class, but using the near-equatorial position of the spaceport, it can place almost a ton of payload into a GSO. The Delta launcher (medium-weight class) differs from the Gamma by having four solid-propellant boosters attached to the first stage. Its payload deliverable to a GSO is 1.7 tons. The heavy Epsilon launcher (its first stage consists of three identical units, the same as on the Gamma and Delta) can place a four-ton spacecraft in orbit, if it is launched from Alcantara.

These three almost fully unified rockets will cater to all ranges of payload needed now and likely to be needed in the future. Helped by Russia, Brazil will not only gain a chance to enter space on her own, but also to make commercial launches for other countries.

The Brazilian government is planning to allocate $1 billion for the project in the next six years. It has already set aside $650 million for the construction of five launch pads able to handle up to 12 launches per year.

Its commercial launches can bring Brazil between $60 million and $100 million every year. To pool its financial resources, the country has decided to cancel some of its cooperation agreements with other countries. Ukraine is a likely candidate for cancellation.

Yury Zaitsev is an analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Space Research.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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