Changes in Brazilian space program – VLS-1 cancelled

Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB), Brazilian Space Agency, decided to change vision and some objectives in their space program.

It was announced at official website of AEB on April 6, 2016, that one of the variants of future launch vehicle called VLS-1 is cancelled and would not be developed in following years under Brazilian National Space Program (PNAE), which covers years from 2012 to 2021. Decision was made after consultations between Instituto de Aeronaútica e Espaço (IAE-Aeronautics and Space Institute which operates under Aerospace Technology and Science Department of Brazilian Air Force) and Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB-which is civilian space agency of Brazil). According to official statement, reason for abandoning development of this version of VLS launch vehicle is result of analysis of Brazilian new possibilities in space industry and demands on space market, along with general trends on space market, which are possible to appear in future. During analysis, both organizations took under consideration conclusions from report on VLS disaster on August 22, 2003, when rocket exploded two days before fifth flight on launch pad in Alcantara Launch Center (CLA-Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara). Announcement points two main reasons for cancelling VLS-1 variant: first is fact, that rocket was designed strictly to meet demands of MECB ( established in 1981, Missão Espacial Completa Brasileira-Complete Brazilian Space Mission), which was generally program of sustainable development of different areas of the space industry, along with creating whole infrastructures necessary for space program. MECB had origins in established in 1971 Brazilian Commission for Space Activities (Comissão Brasileira de Atividades Espaciais-Cobae), which limited civilian participation only to designing satellites and left developing of space centers, rockets and generally whole launch service, to military forces. It was generating problems with managing of the organization and caused establishing AEB in 1994, which remains civilian independent space agency cooperating with military institutions under Brazilian space program. Rocket was designed without implementing modern technologies, which were already present in the years of design. In fact, VLS-1 could not be compared to present launch vehicles. Its construction was based on solid fueled engines; they were not equipped with emergency cut off system and were not throttable. Comparing to launch vehicles, which were offered on the market in the half of the eighties, fully solid fueled rocket were exceptional and in general solid fueled propulsion was considered as outdated. Next reason, which was emphasized were changes in general trends in international space industry. With increasing role of Nano satellites, 3D printing, new more powerful engines, VLS-1 technology started to be outdated. It is worth to remind that abandoning VLS-1 is not synonymous with abandonment of whole VLS program, which consists of VLM (which was basically smaller version of VLS-1) vehicle, VLS-Alfa, VLS-Beta and VLS. AEB and IAE are going to start new project which is called VS-43. VS-43 will be new rocket, which probably will represent similar capabilities as VLS-1. It will be based on remained parts and assembling lines of VLS-1 for more efficient use of budget with adopting new technologies for ultimate goal: offering small sized launch vehicle which could be comparative with modern rockets offered on international market.

VLS-1, which exploded on 22 August, 2003 on launch pad in Alcantara Launch Center, was designed as solid fueled small sized launch vehicle. With assumed payload capacity of 380 kg for LEO, it was long for 19.5 m with diameter at 1.01 m. With weight at 50 t it was designed as three stage rocket with four solid fueled boosters (with 303 kN engines). First stage is equipped with single engine offering 320.6 kN of thrust. Second stage is powered with one engine with thrust at 208.39 kN and propulsion of the third stage is also single engine with thrust at 33.24 kN. First flight was performed on December 1, 1985 with no success - rocket reached only altitude of 10 km. Second flight on May 18, 1989 finished with reaching apogee of 50.3 km. Next flights on December 2, 1997 and on December 11, 1999 were failures. Disaster which took place on August 22, 2003, caused death of 21 people from ground personnel who work on launch pad. At 13:26 local time four boosters rapidly started and destroyed rocket, launch pad and caused fire in near forests. After accident, AEB scheduled next test flight for 2015 with possibility of delaying until 2016. Now it is possible that VLS-1 will not be tested anymore and for the next launch of remaining in early phase of development VS-43 we will be forced to wait probably for a long time.

On picture above - Rio de Janeiro seen from space.