LA PAZ – The Bolivian government will give priority to a project to place a second telecommunications satellite into orbit in the medium term and deferred indefinitely the plan to launch a prospecting satellite due to a reduction in earnings because of the fall in oil prices.
Ivan Zambrana, the director of the Bolivian Space Agency (ABE), granted an interview to EFE for the third anniversary of the launch of the Tupac Katari 1 (TKSAT-1) telecommunications satellite.
The TKSAT-1 was sent into orbit from a Chinese launch facility on Dec. 20, 2013, and began operating in April 2014. It is currently functioning at 70 percent capacity, Zambrana said.
“We think that in another year we’ll be above 80 or 85 percent, which is almost the commercial physical limit for a satellite ... But we haven’t stopped meeting the objectives that led us to launch it, which is for all Bolivians to have communications services,” he said.
The ABE chief said that 50 percent of Bolivians still do not have Internet access, the majority of them in rural areas, and the best technology to connect those people within a reasonable time is the satellite.
“That makes us think that we need a second satellite. And that second satellite, which is also going to be paid for within its operating life, is a highly viable project. With that criterion, we’ve started working on that project,” he said.
The design and construction of the second satellite, which will be called the Tupac Katari 2 (TKSAT-2), will take at least three years, and authorities expect it to be launched in 2020 or 2021.
Bolivia still has not determined which country it will work with on the second project, which is still in the preliminary phase.
What is clear, however, is that “it’s going to cost us a little less than the first one, especially because we already have elements that we don’t need to buy again, like the ground stations,” said the ABE director.
According to Zambrana, the only profitable space business which provides direct income is telecommunications, and that is the other reason why La Paz has opted to move forward with this project and set aside the Bartolina Sisa program to launch a prospecting satellite to search for natural resources, monitor agricultural production and help search for water resources.
“Since we’ve suffered a reduction in our income from the hydrocarbons business, there has been a review of state investment projects and other projects have been prioritized,” he added, noting that a telecommunications satellite practically “pays for itself.”
The TKSAT-1 was built in China at a cost of $300 million, with 85 percent financing from the China Development Bank and 15 percent by the Bolivian state.
The satellite is operated from two ground control stations in the Bolivian regions of La Paz and Santa Cruz by civilian and military personnel who received specialized training from Beijing.
During its first year of operations, the TKSAT-1 produced income of $7 million, and that figure rose to $19 million in 2015 and will exceed $25 million in 2016.