Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brasil's Space Program

Alcântara explosion aftermath
The aftermath of an August 2003 explosion of a VLS rocket at Baazil’s Alcântara launch site, which killed 21 people. (credit: Agência Brasil, via Wikipedia)

Brazil in space

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The much-derided James Bond movie Moonraker does have its good moments. One of them occurs about two thirds of the way through the film when Bond discovers that the homicidal billionaire with his own space shuttle fleet has built a series of underground launch pads deep in the Brazilian rain forest. Ironically, in the movie, Brazil had a space program, they just didn’t know about it.
The report was apparently prompted by a Brazilian decision to embark “on an ambitious aerospace program intended to make it self-sufficient in space technology and capable of producing, launching, and maintaining a satellite in space.”
In reality, Brazil has long had its own on-again, off-again space program, periodically leading to articles claiming that the country is about to make a new push to develop its indigenous capabilities. After awhile nothing happens, and then nothing continues to happen, and eventually most people forget that Brazil has or had a space program. Evidence of this—and a more substantial link between espionage and secretive launch bases—can be found in a newly-declassified November 1982 CIA report on Brazil’s space program, which CIA analysts believed was about to make a major next step with the development of Brazil’s own indigenous space launch vehicle.
The report, simply titled “Brazilian Space Launch Vehicle Program,” was produced by the National Photographic Interpretation Center, which at the time was run by the CIA and colloquially referred to as NPIC, or “enpic.” NPIC was responsible for analyzing satellite and aircraft reconnaissance photography and producing assessments of what they saw. Although the report was only 14 pages long, it was intended to be a comprehensive overview of everything from industrial facilities to launch ranges to the launch vehicles themselves. By this time NPIC analysts were encouraged to branch beyond using only imagery to produce their assessments, and thus the NPIC report references several open source articles about Brazil’s efforts, producing a more complete view of the country’s space projects. There is no evidence that the US intelligence community looked at Brazil’s program with any alarm, however.
The report was apparently prompted by a Brazilian decision to embark “on an ambitious aerospace program intended to make it self-sufficient in space technology and capable of producing, launching, and maintaining a satellite in space.” The country had started a number of plans and programs expanding existing facilities and constructing new test and launch facilities, according to the report. Brazil’s plans at the time were to launch “a new-generation sounding rocket (Sonda IV) by 1983 and the launch of a four-stage space launch vehicle (SLV) by 1988.”
Brazil’s space program began in 1961 and resulted in the successful development of the Sonda I, II and III sounding rockets, primarily used for meteorological research. The Sonda III was capable of transporting a 50-kilogram payload to 500 kilometers altitude. The Sonda IV was planned to be capable of launching 300 kilograms to 1,000 kilometers. All were solid propellant rockets.
The proposed space launch vehicle was to have four stages and able to launch a 120-kilogram satellite to a 500–800 kilometer orbit. Its first launch was scheduled for 1988 and would be followed by three additional launches over the next five years, although that schedule had already slipped. The CIA predicted that the first stage would consist of a cluster of four to five Sonda IV rockets, with the second and third stages made of other Sonda rockets. This was, in fact, similar to the approach taken by Iraq in developing its space launch vehicle in the late 1980s, although Iraq used clustered liquid-fueled rockets. (See: “Saddam’s space program,” The Space Review, October 26, 2009.)
Initially, Brazil had hoped to jointly develop a liquid-fueled launch vehicle with France, but negotiations with the French broke down over technology transfer issues. Brazil had to go it alone.
Brazil’s launch area was the Barreira do Inferno Rocket Range on the Atlantic Coast. It opened in 1965 and the 1982 report stated that over 2,000 domestic and foreign-built rockets had been launched from there. These included not only the Sondas, but also the Nike-Ajax, Nike-Cajun, Nike-Iroquois, Javelin, Aerobee, and the Black Brant IV.
Because Alcântara is less than three degrees from the equator, it benefits from the Earth’s rotation compared to sites farther away. But geography is not destiny when it comes to space launches.
The Brazilian government had publicly stated that the launch range was insufficient for the space launch vehicle and had therefore acquired a 500-square-kilometer area near Sao Luis Bay. This was named the Alcântara Space Launch Facility and plans were for it to become operational in 1988. American reconnaissance satellites had not spotted any construction at the site by the time the report was written.
That was nearly 30 years ago.
The first launch at Alcântara did not take place until 1990, when the Brazilians fired a Sonda II sounding rocket. As the NPIC analysts predicted, the space launch vehicle—which the Brazilians named the Veículo Lançador de Satélites, or VLS—slipped its schedule. Limited tests of the first stage took place in 1985 and 1989. But the first full-scale test did not take place until December 1997—nine years later than planned—and ended in failure. A second launch took place in December 1999 and also failed.
But the major setback occurred just days before the third test launch scheduled for August 2003. The VLS rocket exploded on the pad, killing 21 people. Although the VLS is still supposedly an active program, after nearly nine years with no launch attempts it is difficult to believe that it is going to make any progress.
Late last year Brazil and Ukraine announced that a joint venture that had been initiated in 2003 was finally resuming. The plan is to launch a Ukrainian Cyclone-4 rocket from Alcântara in 2013. Because Alcântara is less than three degrees from the equator, it benefits from the Earth’s rotation compared to sites farther away. But geography is not destiny when it comes to space launches. If there is a CIA intelligence analyst responsible for keeping tabs on Brazil’s space program today, he probably has a lot of time on his hands.

Did Private Companies Pay Too Much For Brasil's Privitized Airports?

Brazilian airport bids raise airlines’ fears

Concern is mounting in the airline industry over the high prices paid in the privatisation last month of three Brazilian airports, particularly that of São Paulo, South America’s principal international gateway.
The privatisations, the first of their kind under the government of President Dilma Rousseff, are possible models for other much-needed infrastructure projects around the country as Brazil seeks to lay the foundations for continued fast economic growth.





Airlines worry that successful bidders will struggle to turn a profit without overcharging customers – the winning consortium in São Paulo paid nearly five times the minimum bid while that for Brasília paid nearly eight times.
“It looks like the numbers don’t add up and that can be very dangerous,” said Germán Efromovich, head of Avianca, one of Latin America’s biggest airlines. “Not for [the project] not happening but for who is going to pay the bill at the end of the day.”
The privatisation of Brazil’s main airports, most of which are running at chronic overcapacity after years of passenger traffic growth and under-investment, is one of the biggest initiatives by President Rousseff since she took office in January last year. The move was regarded as an important show of pragmatism by a centre-left government traditionally opposed to privatisation.
Increasing the capacity of Brazil’s airports will be crucial to the success of the country’s plans to host the football World Cup final in 2014 and the Olympics two years later.
The country has plans to invest about $562bn between 2011 and 2014 as part of a scheme known as the “Accelerated Growth Programme”, with between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of this total earmarked for the private sector.
“Brazil must resolve its infrastructure deficit before 2014,” Standard & Poor’s analysts Pablo Lutereau and Candela Macchi said in a report. They said airline passenger traffic in Brazil rose to nearly 180m by 2011 from over 71m in 2003 on the back of Brazil’s economic growth and cheaper fares.
Under the airport privatisation, the government awarded concessions to manage and expand the international airport of São Paulo, and those of nearby Campinas and the capital Brasília.
A consortium led by Brazilian companies Invepar and OAS and South African airport operator ACSA won the most important concession, São Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport, with a bid of R$16.2bn ($8.9bn).
Invepar declined to comment on Tuesday, saying it was still awaiting formal regulatory approval of the deal.
But its bid was not only higher than the official minimum bid of R$3.4bn, it was reportedly R$4bn higher than the nearest offer. The concessionaires will also be required to make total investments of R$4.6bn, increasing the pressure on potential returns.
“Nobody can figure out how they are going to have any return with the price they put on the table,” said an investor from a rival consortium. He said even at the price of the next bid of R$12bn, the expected rate of return was only 5 per cent.
Tony Tyler, chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association, the global airline industry trade body, said Brazil was following a policy he had seen in India and other countries of seeking to maximise government revenue from airport concessions at the expense of airlines and, ultimately, passengers.
São Paulo’s turnround charges for an A330 were already among the highest in the world at around double that of Miami and more than double Madrid’s, Iata said.
“It’s a short-sighted policy by governments simply to see airports as a convenient way of gouging money from the airline industry when they should be seeing them as important engines of growth,” Mr Tyler said.
However, Standard & Poor’s Mr Lutereau said the use of public-private partnerships to develop Brazil’s airports was positive and the concessions would mostly be financed by affordable loans from Brazil’s development bank, easing the pressure on the winning consortiums.
“Funding alternatives for these airport projects are attractive,” he said. But he warned that this system of privatisation lacked a “track record” and it was too soon to say if it would be “creditor friendly”.
Brazil’s secretary of aviation was unavailable for comment.

Clegg Rebukes Argentina Over UK Nuclear Submarines

March 27, 2012 3:59 pm

Clegg rebukes Argentina over UK submarines

Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, has rebuked Argentina for making “baseless insinuations” about Britain’s nuclear submarine deployments, ratcheting up tensions over the Falkland Islands in an unusually public clash in front of more than 50 world leaders.
Speaking at a summit on nuclear security in Seoul, Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s foreign minister, levelled an attack against “the extra-regional power” which he suggested could be sending submarines into the South Atlantic in defiance of international law.
The topic was not on the agenda of the summit – which was concerned with nuclear materials falling into terrorist hands – but Mr Clegg said he felt “duty bound” to respond, saying: “These are unfounded, baseless insinuations”.





A spokesman for Mr Clegg said Mr Timerman had argued Britain was deploying submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons in potential defiance of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which commits states with atomic weapons to keep their warheads away from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Argentine foreign ministry confirmed it used the summit to seek guarantees Britain was not breaking the treaty. Speaking in front of an audience that included US President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and China’s Hu Jintao, Mr Clegg replied Britain ratified protocols to the Treaty of Tlatelolco in 1969 and continued to abide by its obligations.
The exchange in Seoul is the latest episode in a round of increasing tensions between London and Buenos Aires on the eve of the 30th anniversary of their war over the Falkland Islands.

Interactive map: the Falkland Islands

Falkland Island
Explore the economic and political set-up of the islands
Argentina emphasises it will not mount another invasion to seize the islands it calls Las Malvinas but says Britain’s claim is an anachronistic vestige of colonialism. London refuses to negotiate on its sovereignty over the islands, which it has controlled since 1833 and argues the inhabitants want to remain British.
Some of the increased tensions are due to Argentine fears that Buenos Aires would be cut out of hydrocarbon revenues if oil explorers discover substantial reserves off the archipelago.
Mr Timerman this month said his ministry would set up a permanent team to crack down on international oil companies involved in work there, both in international and Argentine courts.
Buenos Aires has also accused Prince William, second in line to the British throne, of carrying out a recent military deployment to the islands in “the uniform of a conqueror”.
Liberal Democrats expressed delight with Mr Clegg’s defiant stance at a high-profile international event, saying it helps them look more credible as a party of government. One senior party member said: “He should do these overseas statesman things more often.”
Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012. You may share using our article tools.

Brasil's Pension System-A Ticking Time Bomb

Brazil’s pension system

Tick, tock

The Senate debates a small measure to help disarm an economic time bomb

AFTER spending much of her political capital fighting corruption, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, has had to pick her battles. Seven senators from her resentful coalition have already quit, and more warn they may follow. Ms Rousseff has put most of her legislative plans on hold until relations improve. But she is training her remaining firepower on what may be Brazil’s biggest public-policy problem: a voracious pension system that threatens to bust the budget and damage the economy.
On February 29th the lower house of Congress approved a reform of civil servants’ pensions. It would cap the defined-benefit plans of future federal-government employees at 3,916 reais ($2,150) a month, the same level as private-sector workers. Those who want more would have to contribute to a separate fund. That would make the system less unfair and, in the long term, a bit cheaper.
The bill still must pass the Senate and Ms Rousseff’s powers of persuasion may not prove sufficient. Even if it is approved, however, it would only be a first step towards fixing a system that Fabio Giambiagi, an economist at the National Development Bank, calls “absolutely the most generous in the world. The economy of Brazil is very different from Greece’s. But in terms of retirement rules, we are worse.”
Uniquely among large economies, Brazil is a young country with the pensions bill of an old one (see chart). It has just ten over-65s for every hundred 15- to 64-year-olds, fewer than anywhere in the G7. And yet it spends 13% of GDP on pensions, more than any G7 member except Italy, where the share of old people is three times higher than in Brazil. In fact, so few Brazilians pay for pensions, and so many get them, that the country has 35 pensioners for every 100 contributing workers, a higher ratio than in the United States.
Brazil’s pensions are among the world’s most generous, too, replacing 75% of average income. Some of this is welfare spending intended to cut poverty. Rural workers aged over 60, and anyone poor and over 65, can get a pension of 622 reais—the minimum wage—without ever having paid into the system. But this only costs around 2% of GDP a year. The real culprits are rules that let contributing workers retire earlier, on bigger pensions, than anywhere else.
To retire on full pay most Brazilians need only contribute for 15 years and keep going until 65 for men and 60 for women. But after 35 years paying in, a man of any age can retire on a smaller, though still generous, pension. A woman must pay in for just 30 years. All pensions must exceed the minimum wage, which has trebled in real terms since 1995. As a result, most Brazilians retire startlingly early: at 54 on average for a man in the private sector, and just 52 for a woman. Survivors’ benefits have no age limits. Families inherit pensions in their entirety, meaning young, childless widows never need work. A tenth of all 45-year-olds are already receiving a pension.
In a young country, a pay-as-you-go system should yield surpluses, which can be invested in infrastructure and education. But Brazil’s is already in deficit. Investment is only about 20% of GDP, and just 2.9% of GDP comes from the government.
Children get particularly slim pickings after pensions are paid. Taking income levels and differing demographies into account, Brazil spent twice as lavishly on each pensioner as the OECD average, but only two-thirds as generously on the education of each child. The only handout a poor child can hope for is the Bolsa Família, a grant averaging 115 reais per family per month. If he were over 65 his family would receive over five times as much. As a result, very few old people are below the poverty line, but a third of children are.
The price for such distorted priorities is already high. But soon it will be unpayable. Payroll taxes for pensions are already greater in Brazil, at 32% of gross salary, than in all G7 countries except Italy. According to Bernardo Queiroz of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, without reforms, by 2050 they would have to reach a crushing 86% to keep the system going.
Averting such a disaster will take big changes: more people contributing, less generous pensions and a ban on early retirement. Rerunning his calculations, Mr Queiroz found that, together, these would cause the pensions payroll tax in 2050 to rise to 40% (still a daunting figure). But such reforms are not even being discussed. “It’s a puzzle,” he says. “The unions are against changes. But without them, the workers they represent are paying for other people to get much more generous pensions than they will ever get themselves.”
Brazil will have to face reality sooner or later. But the risk is that it will take an economic crisis to goad the government into action. Big reforms were pushed through in 1999, when the country was struggling to pay its foreign debts. (Incredibly, pensions used to be even more generous, with no cap in the private sector and retirement on full pay at any age after 35 years in work.)
Mr Queiroz says the lesson from abroad is that once those in or near retirement are very numerous, reform becomes so urgent that it will have to hit them too. At that point, they will mobilise and block all changes, even to the brink of collapse. An unaffordable system can only be fixed while the share of old people is small. Brazil’s chance to change is brief, he says—perhaps ten years.