A spike in sea temperatureshad atmospheric scientists voicing worries Monday about a severe El Nino effect in 2013. Peru, which has suffered from such weather events before, has just improved its defenses. On April 24,Peruvian Defense Minister Pedro Caterianoand France’s Ambassador to Peru, Jean-Jacques Beaussou, signed an agreement in the headquarters of the Peruvian Army in Lima. Through this accord, Peru has purchased a French satellite, the Asrosat-300, for$213 million USD.
Discussions over the type of satellite Peru would purchase have been ongoing for the better part of a year. Ultimately, the Peruvian government chose the Asrosat-300, but this decision has not been without criticism. OppositionCongressman Mauricio Mulderhas argued that there were other potential suppliers (Spanish, British and Israeli) that offered better deals. It has also been argued that the Peruvian government overpaid for the French satellite. Minister Cateriano has defended himself, stating that the transaction between Paris and Lima was transparent. He has also declared that the satellite is worth the price tag, and that critiques of the deal arepolitically motivated.
It is important to clarify that the Asrosat-300 satellite has not been built yet. Peruvian technicians will travel to France over the next two years and will be involved in the design, construction, launch and, ultimately, control of the satellite once it is in orbit.
Hence, the agreement between Lima and Paris appears to be fairly beneficial for Peru. Such transfer of technology and hands-on-experience will be invaluable in the long run as a new generation of Peruvian scientists and technicians will learn the know-how of designing and building modern satellites, which will help launch (in theory) a slate of domestically-built Peruvian space technology. Moreover, while the Asrosat-300 will not be launched until 2016, via the agreement with France, Peru can have access toimages from French satellitesuntil its own satellite is safely aloft.
There are high hopes placed on the Asrosat-300. Already the Peruvian media has declared that it will be the most modern satellite in South America. The Peruvian government and military plans to utilize it for internal security. Namely, the satellite can help locateShining Path guerrillasthat operate in the Peruvian highlands, as well as illegal landing strips and cocaine labs. Peru also has a severe problem with illegal logging and illegal mining in the Amazon, and it is expected that the satellite can help the Peruvian police crackdown on these destructive crimes. The satellite has civilian uses as well, including the aforementioned metereological ones. And given the imminent arrival of El Nino and how climate change will affect the world in the short and long term, it will be beneficial to Peru to have a satellite to effectively monitor weather patterns.
Peru’s satellite buy can be placed in a discussion of how Latin American space programs are booming (I have discussed these space programs inprevious analyses). In December, Bolivia deployed its first ever satellite, theTupac Katari, which was built by, and launched from, China. Meanwhile, Peru has successfully launched two experimental satellites so far this year. Other Latin American countries that have growing space programs areColombia,MexicoandVenezuela.
ButBrazilhas the most developed space program in the region; the Portuguese-speaking nation hosts theAlcantara launching center, located in Maranhao (northern Brazil). Brasilia hopes that Alcantara will become a launching pad for satellites of neighboring states, but so far Latin American countries seem to prefer other spaceports: Bolivia launched its satellite fromChina, while Peru launched its newest satellites fromRussiaand theU.S.(The Asrosat-300 could be launched from thespaceport in French Guyana).
As for Peru’s satellite, if all goes well and it is launched as scheduled in 2016, it will make for a fitting farewell gift from President Ollanta Humala, whose presidency ends that year. Humala’s presidency was marked by aggressive operations on the part of Peru’s armed forces to crack down on the Shining Path and other criminal networks, and while there have beensome important successes, the narco-insurgentsremain operative. The Asrosat-300 could very well be a highly efficient tool for surveillance and intelligence, so that the Peruvian military and police can finally eliminate this guerrilla movement.
Moreover, Peru’s Asrosat-300 and Bolivia’s Tupac Katari satellites, combined with Brazil’s robust space program, demonstrate that Latin American nations are carrying out big steps to have a presence in space. Certainly, none of these nations’ space programs come close to NASA, Roscosmos, or the CNSA, and it will be a long time before Latin America can put one of its citizens in space via Latin American spaceships (thoughLatinos have already gone to spacevia the U.S. and Russian/Soviet spaceships). That said, there’s no question the region is, er, aiming for the stars.