Brazil cancels joint rocket launch program with Ukraine

This is official. On July 16, 2015, Brazilian Minister of External Relations Mauro Vieira sent a letter to Ukrainian Ambassador in Brasilia Rostyslav Tronenko, where it is stated that Brazil denounces rocket launch program Treaty with Ukraine.

It is to remind that the 'Treaty between the Federal Republic of Brazil and Ukraine on long-term cooperation in utilization of the Cyclone-4 launch vehicle at the Alcantara Launch Center' (Treaty) was signed by foreign affairs ministers of both countries in October 2003.

The Treaty established a bi-national company Alcantara Cyclone Space (ACS), responsible for the Cyclone-4 program implementation. Recently Oleg Uruskyi, Chairman of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, estimated contributions to the ACS capital at about $235 million from each Party.

"...Under these conditions, citing the Article 17, item 3 of the Treaty, I inform Your Excellency of the Brazilian government’s irrevocable decision to terminate it" Mauro Vieira, Minister of External Relations of Brazil

Termination of Cyclone-4 program was hardly unexpected. Earlier this year some of Brazilian media already reported that the President Dilma Rousseff and country's Federal government had decided to cancel the international space program with Ukraine.

Main reason for such move of the Brazilian government is seen in an unclear commercial future of the project. Existence of highly competitive environment in launching small and medium class payloads, as well as absence of technology protection treaty between the USA and Brazil, which makes Cyclone-4 rocket unavailable for launch services customers from the US, are the most obvious 'cons' of the program.

Cyclone-4 artist's rendering. Credit: Yuzhnoye SDO
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On the other hand, growing number of SmallSat operators and market boom, plans for launching of hundreds of communication satellites into a low Earth orbit in the near future, probably the best launch site location in the world, and unprecedented reliability rate of Cyclone-4 predecessors, all brought hope that struggling project ultimately would come true.

Presently, the program is entering a phase of responsibilities sharing. Ukrainian party, despite difficult political and economic situation inside the country, assured Brazil in commitment to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty. It was reported that almost all necessary hardware to assemble the first flight-rated launcher, as well as number of ground support equipment systems, had already been completed and even tested. Therefore, Ukraine will likely require compensation from Brazil.

Tests of ground support equipment of Cyclone-4 Launch Complex at Dneprotyazhmash plant
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Brazil, in its turn, although having invested in Alcantara launch site building as much money as Ukraine spent on the launcher and ground support systems development and manufacturing, was the first that decided to terminate the project. Hopefully, it has reasonable explanations for that.

In the official note, sent to Ukraine Ambassador in Brazil, Minister Mauro Vieira explains that “the technology-trade equation that justified the partnership, after the Treaty in question was signed, has been significantly altered”. Full text of the note was provided by Defesanet website (with minor changes of translation from Ukrainian to English):

Notably, the Treaty does not possess a procedure of arguments settlement. This fact means it is very likely that Brazil and Ukraine will face long legal battle. And the Cyclone-4 story has not been written yet, it is just starts a new chapter, hardly related to space.

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