Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Bolivian Satellite: More Unanswered Questions
Evo Morales' government has confirmed the country will begin to build its own satellite in March. Like Venezuela, Bolivia relies mainly on China's industry.
Just like Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales has put his trust on the Chinese experience. All key aspects have been confided to the Asian technicians.
Bolivia has announced it will join the list of Latin American countries with their own satellite. It should be operating by 2014, according to the plans of President Evo Morales, who is supporting the initiative. National authorities and a representation of China Great Wall Industries Corporation signed an agreement for the construction and launch of Bolivia's first communications satellite, officially named Tupac Katari.

The comprehensive satellite communications project will cost over US$350 million, funded at least for now by the Bolivia's General Treasury and a loan from China's Development Bank. The name is a tribute to a Bolivian hero, a great Indian leader who fought in the bloodiest years of Spanish rule during the 16th century.

Construction of the satellite will start next March, based on the DFH-4 model of the third aerospace generation with some improvements. The project will be supervised by the Bolivian Space Agency, founded 10 months ago to provide cross-country telecommunications services and to support communication initiatives, especially those related to education and medicine. The design, manufacture, launch and placing in orbit -36 thousand kilometers away from the earth's surface- will be carried out by the Chinese company (China Academy of Space is responsible for the manufacturing), which has a three-year schedule for development. Once the satellite is launched, Bolivia will take control with the technical and training support of China Great Wall Industries Corporation.

The only thing still pending, and extremely necessary to comply with each of the terms of the agreement, is the US$350 million credit which should be resolved by March.

So far no official data has been released referring to the Katari's features, power and beams. It is another millionaire initiative of the company in Latin America, the second in satellite relationship with China and the region. The gate was opened by Venezuela President Hugo Chávez with his much-hyped satellite Simón Bolivar. With the exception of Brazil and its long and solid history producing its own satellites, every other country in the region continues to have gray and failing experiences. Argentina's adventure with Nahuelsat had its ups and downs, which abruptly ended once the Kirchner government took office. After twists and turns, Nahuelsat disappeared. Argentina's satellite future is still in doubt, though Argentine company ArSat insists otherwise. A light of hope appeared Thursday when an agreement was closed with Thales Alenia Space to supply Ar-Sat 2 satellite's payload, with an estimated launch date for 2013. Other than that, not much else was announced from government sources.

Venezuela's adventure is, for many, a mystery. There are some basic questions: how is the satellite working? What is its real operation? What about rumors that say the satellite is "damaged" and practically unusable? What about Uruguay, which has the right to use a large number of transponders, received in exchange for the transfer of orbital point? What does the Uruguayan government do with such property? Without enough local demand to justify such initiative, has Bolivia has already formed partnerships with its neighbors to avoid failing in the attempt? The answers are written in the water at the moment.
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