There's an unearthly market blooming in the Brazilian jungle.
The Alcantara base sits about 140 miles south of the Earth's equator, making it a prime location for launching satellites, a $260 billion business. From this spot, certain satellites can be launched more efficiently than from spaceports in the U.S.
The dormant military base "makes total sense" to be used "for launching large satellites with big rockets into geosynchronous orbits," or GEO, Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, told CNBC.
These GEO satellites, which circle the globe tens of thousands of miles away, orbit at the equator to provide maximum coverage for services such as communications or broadband.
Launching from the equator itself, therefore, is advantageous because it requires less fuel. A launch from a latitude much farther north — such as NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida or Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — requires rockets sending satellites to GEO to change direction in flight to reach the equator. Sometimes called "bootlegging," that process requires firing a rocket's engines multiple times to angle into position.
Launching those same satellites from Alcantara would save as much as 20 percent more fuel compared with a location such as Florida, McDowell estimated.
Similar savings would be seen for launches to equatorial low-Earth orbit, or LEO, McDowell noted. The case for Boeing and Lockheed Martin "makes sense," McDowell said, due to the large size of GEO-bound satellites.