Brazil Abandons Troubled Cyclone-4 Program

Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)
Cyclone 4 first and second stages. (Credit: Alcantara Space)

It looks like the rumors I reported last month are true. Brazil has decided to pull out of its joint program with Ukraine to launch satellites aboard Cyclone-4 boosters from the Alcantara Launch Center.

“It is an accumulation of issues,” said Petronio Noronha de Souza, AEB’s director of space policy and strategic investments. “There have been challenges on the budget issues, on the technological aspects, in the relationship between Brazil and Ukraine and in the actual market for export that would be available. So it is a combination of things.”

In an April 14 interview at the Latin America Aero and Defense, or LAAD, show here, Noronha de Souza said a formal government announcement, likely from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the program’s stoppage was imminent.

The Alcantara Cyclone Space project was to give Brazil and Ukraine access to the global commercial launch market for satellites in low and medium Earth orbit, with the possibility of launching very light telecommunications satellites into geostationary orbit.

Noronha de Souza said the idea of making a profit in the launch business is now viewed as an illusion. The project, he said, was unlikely ever to be able to support itself on commercial revenue alone….

The Brazilian government’s decision to end the Cyclone-4 project comes as its ambitious 10-year space program 2012-2021 — with a budget of 9.1 billion Brazilian reals ($3.2 billion) — comes under pressure for the first time with the sag in the overall Brazilian economy.

The program undertaken by the jointly-owned Alcantara Cyclone Space has stretched on for more than a decade, with the maiden flight pushed back year after year. Construction of the launch facilities in Brazil has gone through stops and starts due to funding shortfalls.

The program’s end is yet another blow to the struggling Ukrainian space program. Ukrainian companies build the first stage of Orbital ATK’s Antares booster, which is in an extended stand down due to an explosion in October.

Ukrainians also build the Zenit booster used by Russian-owned Sea Launch, which is also in a stand down due to a lack of business. Russian officials have indicated they will no longer buy Zenit launch vehicles. A separate company, Land Launch, also operates Zenit boosters out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. However, there has been little demand for these flights.

Ukraine provides an upper stage for Europe’s Vega small satellite launch vehicle. However, Germany is funding a new motor that will eventually replace the Ukrainian stage.

Meanwhile, there is uncertainty over the future of the Dnepr rocket, which is an SS-18 Satan ballistic missile converted to a satellite launcher in Ukraine and flown out of Russia. Reports out of Russia said that program would end. That report was denied last month by ISC Kosmotras, the company that markets and operates the launches. ISC Kosmotras said it would fulfill launches scheduled through the first half of 2018.

The Dnepr program will eventually end when ISC Kosmotras runs out of SS-18 missiles to convert. There also isn’t a lot of demand for Dnepr launches; there have been only 22 flights in 16 years. The rocket also faces competition from Russia’s new Soyuz-2.1v and Angara-1.2 launch vehicles.