ARSat (formerly NahuelSat) operates 3 satellites in orbit and is headquartered in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Thanks to the domestic manufacture of satellite technology, Argentina will have its own satellite and will not depend upon international operators to offer services within the country’s territory.
The ARSat-1 is Argentina's first geostationary satellite built entirely with local parts. A crew of about 500 scientists built it over seven years at a cost of $250 million. The satellite was launched in October 2014 and will offer a wide array of telecommunications services such as television, telephony and Internet access with full coverage in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. In the near future the entire continent will be covered by upcoming ARSat-2 and ARSat-3 satellite.
With the construction and launch of the ARSat-1 satellite Argentina became one of the first Latin American countries to have produced a geostationary telecommunications satellite. Argentina joined an elite group that is able to build these types of satellites. Other nations with this capability include European Union states (SES, Eutelsat, HispaSat, HellasSat), the United States (Intelsat), Russia (RSCC, Gazprom Space Systems), China (ChinaSat by China Satellite Corporation), India (INSAT), Israel (AMOS by SpaceCom), Korea (KTSat), Middle East states (Arabsat, NileSat, TurkSat) and Japan (Skyperfect-JSAT).
ARSAT was founded in 2006 as a strategic decision for the intelligent use of Government purchasing power by means of which the development of the ARSat-1 satellite was entrusted to Argentine technicians, engineers and scientists The decision fell within the commitment of the Argentine Government to support the leading role played by science and technology in social and economic development of the country.
Between 1975 and 1995, Argentina built and then dismantled South America’s most advanced ballistic missile program (Condor). Argentina first considered building an indigenous missile program in the 1970’s amidst border disputes with Chile and the United Kingdom. By the mid-80’s Argentina’s missile program had outpaced its nearest regional rival Brazil, and had also begun to attract funding and other support from Egypt and Iraq. By 1990, Argentina had produced numerous prototypes, but the country terminated its program just three years later in 1993.
The cancellation of the Condor Program in 1993 was the turning point for Argentina’s space efforts. Since its very beginnings, space research had been done by, or with support of, the armed forces. International pressure to end the medium range ballistic missile program also meant the dissolution or termination of most space related research in the country.
As a consequence, most space related matters were handed to the newly created space agency, CONAE, which was made independent of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, with a very strict mandate to only work on civil applications. At the same time, the ITU was in large-scale negotiations to assign orbital slots to each country.
As the space program was in disarray – with no experience in the geostationary communications market – the conundrum was assigned to the newly created National Telecommunications Commission (CNT for Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones), the equivalent of the USA’s FCC, which was later turned into the current National Communications Commission (CNC for Comisión Nacional de Comunicaciones) in 1996.
Since orbital slot rights expire if not used within a certain time frame (usually three years) – and given the economic crisis and general reorganization ongoing in the government by that time – it was decided to outsource the problem.
An international tender was made for the acquisition, launch and operation of a satellite to fill the slot that the country had negotiated, along with the construction of a ground station in the country from which the satellites would be operated.
The winning bid was made by a partnership that included Daimler Benz-Aerospace of Germany, Aerospatiale of France and Alenia Spazio of Italy, which formed a local company, NahuelSat S.A., to carry the business.
Initially they leased Anik-C1 (Telesat Canada) and was renamed as NahuelSat-I1 from May 1993 to March 1997, to keep the orbital rights to the 71.8° West slot. Anik C2 (also Telesat Canada) was later leased as NahuelSat-I2. Meanwhile, a new satellite, Nahuel-1A, was ordered from Dornier Satellitensysteme – which was successfully launched on January 31, 1997.
In 1998, the country acquired the rights to the 81° West orbital slot, in exchange for allowing DirecTV to operate in the country. It was also assigned to NahuelSat for exploitation.
Unfortunately the company never placed a new satellite there – as it was supposed to – and only leased old satellites to hold on to the orbital rights.
To add insult to injury, the leased satellites didn’t broadcast in all the assigned frequencies, risking a lapse of the assigned rights.
After this event – and given that the Nahuel-1A satellite was close to its end of life without a replacement ordered – the shareholders of NahuelSat S.A. accepted a transfer of the company and assets to the government-owned ARSat S.A. in 2007, in exchange of the later taking care of all debts and obligations of the company shareholders.
The Hatching of an Ambitious Plan
ARSat could have immediately ordered a couple of satellites from the numerous and reliable international manufacturers.
In fact, the then Secretary of Communications, Mr. Guillermo Moreno, made contact with the Chinese government to procure a couple of satellites and launch services. However, even though a cooperation agreement was signed, nothing GEO-related came out of it. Mr. Moreno explained many years later that the USA had lobbied against the idea.
However, after the Condor missile cancellation agreement, the Argentine civil space program had received significant support and oversight from the US government.
NASA had a direct presence in the reviews, not only for the mission, but also per fully indigenous elements like the solar panels of the satellites. The issue of procuring Chinese satellites might have been a politically sensitive issue.
In the end, and possibly aided by the successful experience of the program, it was decided at the highest political level to follow a very different path.
With the all-powerful Planning Ministry, from which ARSat depended, a very daring and ambitious plan was conceived.
Under the umbrella name of Argentina Conectada (Connected Argentina), ArSat would morph from a small satellite operator, to an all-encompassing communication company.
As a result, this involved the installation of a fiber optic network to cover the whole territory, install and operate the free-over-the-air digital television broadcast service that would reach over 90 percent of the country’s population, offer 4G cellular services in the whole country, outsource most government datacenters services and operate a fleet of Argentine-built satellites to reach the whole country in multiple bands as well as offering services in the whole continent.
The ARSat-1 spacecraft
The ARSat-1 was the first of what has been planned to be three geosynchronous communication satellites (ARSat-1, 2 and 3) to be fully designed, built and tested in the country.
The spacecraft was designed and manufactured with a mix of local and foreign supplier base. This mixture is a delicate balance between trying to combine mission risks while maximizing local experience and capabilities development.
The prime contractor is the leading space and nuclear technology company, INVAP SE – wholly owned by the government of the Río Negro Province – which has acted as prime contractor and manufacturer for the whole series of scientific satellites. The final testing was and will be done at CEATSA, the newly created laboratory testing company.
www.mercopress.com (edition 24 Oct 2014)
www.buenosairesherald.com (editions 16 & 17 Oct 2014)
www.usatoday.com (edition 17 Oct 2014)