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Israel Looking to Use Brazilian Alcântara Site for Space Launch

Photograph courtesy of the Brazilian Space Agency.

Israel, along with France, Russia, and the United States, is seeking to use the Alcântara Launch Centre (CLA) located on the northeast Brazilian coast close to the equator, according to the Brazilian Space Agency.

The Alcântara Launch Centre is the closest launch site to the Earth’s equator anywhere in the world. This special location provides any launch from there a natural boost of nearly 2,400 kilometres-an-hour thanks to the effects of the Earth’s spin at the equator. This provides significant savings in rocket fuel and, in turn, feasibly allows for larger payloads to be launched.

Any launch out of Alcântara is made due east over the Atlantic Ocean allowing for an equatorial insertion to low-, medium, and geostationary orbits.

Speaking to Sputnik Brazil, Jose Raimundo Barga Coelho, President of the Brazilian Space Agency, said of the Alcântara Launch Centre, “Our base for space launches is located almost on the equator, namely, just two degrees to the south. For the most advantageous space launches, this is perhaps the best launch pad in the world.”

Coelho added that many countries looking to launch satellites, “in a certain sense, look with envy at our base.” Coelho went on to say that, “All this should be considered meticulously. I believe that concrete commercial proposals are yet to be made, and that thus far, only a number of countries have had the desire to conduct these negotiations with Brazil.”

Among these countries is Israel, itself a space-launching state. Yet the Alcântara Launch Centre is an attractive choice for Israel since every time it seeks to launch a satellite from its own soil it must launch westwards, against the Earth’s spin, across the Mediterranean Sea into what is called a retrograde orbit. Israel uses this kind of space launch in order to ensure that rocket parts fall into the Mediterranean rather than on neighbouring Arab countries, and to further ensure that others cannot salvage any Israeli satellite technology in the event of a failed launch. This type of launch, though, imposes significant penalties in terms of extra rocket fuel required to place a much smaller payload into orbit.

As such, Israel only uses its Palmachim Air Force Base launch site for national security launches, while civil and commercial launches are conducted by foreign launch providers such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Arianespace, and providers in the United States.

Access to the Alcântara Launch Centre, however, would allow Israel access to a friendly launching country with access to all Earth orbits without any of the penalties it must bear in Israel, none of the security considerations it must currently take into account, and greater savings in fuel in return for the ability to place larger payloads in to orbit.

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