Bolivia to launch satellite into space

Impoverished South American country creates space agency to build and launch satellite with Chinese help

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent

Evo Morales

An unlikely newcomer is about to make the final frontier a little more crowded: Bolivia is to launch a satellite into space.

The impoverished South American country, famed more for llamas and Andean peaks than technology, has created a space agency to build and launch a satellite with Chinese help.

Named after Túpac Katari, an Aymara Indian leader who fought Spanish colonialists, the satellite is intended to improve communication in rural areas and boost indigenous pride.

President Evo Morales signed the decree creating the Bolivian Space Agency at a cabinet meeting this week, the public works minister, Walter Delgadillo, told a media conference.

“It will be in charge of carrying out the project to build and send into orbit the Túpac Katari satellite, but will also promote other satellite programmes for the benefit of the country.”

It will also keep alive the name of a rebel who led an uprising against Spanish overlords before being captured, tortured and torn into four pieces in 1781.

Construction of the third-generation DFH-4 satellite is due to start next month and it is hoped to have it in orbit by 2013. The agency, which will initially operate out of the capital La Paz, will have a modest starting budget of $1m (£600,000), loose change by Nasa‘s standards.

Bolivia hopes China, which has invested economic and political capital to expand its influence in South America, will cover most of the estimated $300m costs. It will seek donations and loans from other countries. Last year the UN offered Bolivia technical help on orbital positions and frequency bands.

Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, is due to sign a contract with Beijing during a visit to China next month. The former llama herder and coca grower has championed indigenous rights, nationalised key industries and in addition to China has forged ties with Venezuela and Iran. Mandarin language schools are booming in La Paz.

The space programme follows Venezuela’s $400m deal with China to launch a satellite last year. Named after the liberation hero Simón Bolívar, it helps to transmit a state-backed TV network, among other tasks.

“This will put an end to media terrorism and help us spread our own truth, to wage the battle of ideas with efficiency and transparency,” President Hugo Chávez, who often clashes with private media, said after the launch.

Source: Guardian

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