updated 10/24/2004 12:57:57 AM ET 2004-10-24T04:57:57

Brazil successfully launched its first rocket into space, 14 months after a devastating accident that killed 21 space agency employees and damaged the reputation of the country’s space program.

The two-stage rocket, named VSB-30, or Brazilian Exploration Vehicle, was launched Saturday afternoon from the Alcantara launch site in Maranhao, about 1,700 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, said officials with the Brazilian Air Force’s Research and Development Department.

The successful launch would not only restore the reputation of Latin America’s first space program, but it would also allow it to follow through on plans to export the rockets to the European Space Agency where it would reportedly replace the equivalent British-made Skylark rocket.

Brazil plans to sell up to 15 of the rockets, which can carry up to 870 pounds and fly up to 155 miles.

The program was dealt a huge blow in August 2003 when its VLS-1 VO3 rocket exploded in a fiery ball on the launch platform three days before its scheduled launch. The rocket was carrying two research satellites.

The report on the disaster investigation confirmed that an electrical flaw triggered one of the rocket’s four solid fuel boosters during final preparations at the seaside launch pad.

The accident was the third failure for Brazil’s space program, but it was the first in which anyone died. In 1997, a rocket launched from Alcantara crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after liftoff. In 1999, officials destroyed a rocket after it veered off course three minutes after takeoff.

Air force officials said Saturday’s launch was supervised by teams from the Brazilian Space Agency and the German Space Center.

The Alcantara base is considered an excellent launch site because of its location. It sits just 2.3 degrees south of the Equator, the line at which the Earth moves the fastest, helping propel rockets into space while using up to 13 percent less fuel. This allows the rockets to carry heavier payloads.

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