VLS-1 V03

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VLS-1 V03
2003 Alcântara VLS accident.jpg
Wreck of the structure of the VLS launch pad
Date22 August 2003 (2003-08-22)
Time13:26:05 between frames 26 and 27 BRT (UTC-3)
LocationAlcântara Launch Center, Maranhão, Brazil
OutcomeSetback to the Brazilian space program with the loss of 21 technicians, launch vehicle and structure (launch pad and launch tower)

The 2003 Alcântara VLS accident was an accident involving a Brazilian Space Agency VLS-1 launch vehicle, which was intended to have launched two satellites into orbit. The rocket exploded on its launch pad at the Alcântara Launch Center, killing 21 people. This was the third attempt by the Brazilian Space Agency to launch the VLS rocket into space.


On August 22, 2003, at 13:26:05 between the frames 26 and 27 [1] (local time) an inadvertent propellant ignition [2] destroyed the launch vehicle as it stood on its launch pad at the Alcântara Launch Center in the state of Maranhão in northern Brazil. Twenty-one people, standing on the launch pad, died when one of the rocket's four first stage motors ignited accidentally.[3] The explosion caused a fire in the nearby jungle brush, and produced a large cloud of smoke that was visible from far away.


The explosion leveled the rocket's launch pad, reducing a 10-story high structure to a pile of twisted metal. The rocket had been scheduled to launch in just a few days and had two satellites on board when the explosion occurred. After the explosion, the Brazilian Space Agency was criticized for using solid-fuel rockets, which are easier to build and ignite than liquid-fuel rockets, but also dangerous because they lack throttle controls and emergency shut-offs.[4] The incident has caused a significant delay to the Brazilian space program because of government inquiries as well as the fact that many scientists and engineers who worked on the program were killed when the rocket exploded.[5]

An investigation by the Brazilian Government after the explosion found "dangerous buildups of volatile gases, deterioration of sensors and electromagnetic interference" at the launch site.[6]

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Coordinates: 2°22′23″S 44°23′47″W / 2.37306°S 44.39639°W / -2.37306; -44.39639