Peru’s new satellite is scheduled to be launched from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana, in mid-September. PeruSat-1, the name of the satellite, will be the new crown jewel of the Peruvian space program led by the National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (Comisión Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo Aeroespacial; CONIDA).
In 2014 the Peruvian and French governments signed an agreement for the construction of PeruSat-1. The satellite was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space, based on theAstroBus-S platform. A March 2015 press release by the aerospace company explains how “PeruSat-1 is also the first programme run by the Projects Factory, a new and more integrated working organisation in the Space System business unit. This new way of working brings down development and construction lead times for satellites up to 500 kg and optimises their costs, without impacting quality in any way.”
The satellite was constructed at the Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France. Peruvian scientists and officers have regularly travelled to the French city to supervise the construction as well as to receive training on how to operate the satellite.
CONIDA has constructed a new facility to control PeruSat-1, called the National Center for Satellite Imagery Operations (Centro Nacional de Operaciones de Imágenes Satelitales; CNOIS). The facilities occupy 15 hectares and are located in Punta Lobos, south of Lima.
According to the Peruvian media, PeruSat-1 will be utilized for various activities, such as monitoring weather patterns, which will help Peru’s agro-industry and to address natural disasters. Additionally, the satellite will help with internal security, as it can be utilized for border surveillance as well as to combat illicit activities like illegal mining or illegal logging.
When the deal was first announced in 2014, it attracted a fair amount of politically-influenced criticism against the then Ollanta Humala-administration. The main argument was that the satellite was too expensive (it reportedly cost USD$213 million), and CONIDA could have gotten obtained two smaller satellites for the same amount. It is the opinion of this author that the Humala government was correct in acquiring one heavy (it reportedly weights over 300kg) satellite, which will be the cornerstone of the country’s space program for the immediate future.
CONIDA has been busy in recent years as, apart from the satellite, it successfully carries out other projects. In 2013 the center launched its first rocket built domestically. The Paulet 1-B reportedly managed to travel vertically 15km. Additionally, CONIDA has organized workshops on the issue of satellites for defense. For example in 2015, the agency hosted a seminar for members of the Peruvian armed forces, entitled “Optical Satellite Imagery and Defense.”
CONIDA was established in June 1974 by the military government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado. Its staff is compromised of Peruvian scientists, technicians and members of the military (particularly the Air Force). Its headquarters are located in San Isidro, downtown Lima, and it also has the aforementioned testing center and future CNOIS base called Punta Lobos in Pucusana, south of Lima. CONIDA’s current director is Air Force General Carlos Rodríguez Pajares.
While expensive, PeruSat-1 is a major accomplishment for the Peruvian space program which needed to take the next leap forward in order to have a bigger presence in spatial affairs and to carry out more projects for the benefit of Peruvian society. In five years time Peru will celebrate its bicentennial independence anniversary, and it should welcome this milestone by having the Peruvian flag proudly displayed both in Earth and space.