News from the 64th International Astronautical Congress | Andean Community Satellite Plan Languishes

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BEIJING — The five-nation Andean Community, to which international radio frequency regulators gave a satellite orbital slot, appears on the verge of collapse as individual members pursue their own space policies without much concern for what the others are doing, a Colombian space policy expert said.

The five nations — Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela — have been unable to agree to a common approach to developing their orbital resource at 67 degrees west longitude and have narrowly avoided having their rights to the slot revoked for not putting a satellite into it, Camilo Guzman of Sergio Arboleda University said.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has launched one satellite into its own orbital slot following an agreement with China to supply both the launch and the satellite, and has a second spacecraft under construction. Bolivia likewise has agreed to a bundled Chinese satellite and launch contract. Colombia has indicated it wants to do likewise but as yet has not signed a contract.

Venezuela left the Andean Community in 2011.

Following an agreement with satellite fleet operator SES, the Andean Community was able to secure the 67 degrees west slot with the placement of SES’s AMC-4 satellite, which was already in orbit, there in mid-2010. This satisfied international regulators that the Simon Bolivar 2 network, as it is called in the regulatory filings, had been brought into use.

The idea at the time was that the four remaining Andean Community nations would pool their demand. Luxembourg-based SES in turn would provide the satellite infrastructure to serve that demand and to develop its existing business elsewhere in Latin America, which is one of the most dynamic satellite-bandwidth markets in the world.

In an address to the 64th International Astronautical Federation conference here, Guzman said the Andean Community’s original ambition was to secure equitable access to the orbital arc. But there was no common policy on how to use the spectrum.

“They wanted a satellite, but to have a satellite is not a policy,” Guzman said. “There has been no desire to work together. In the future the Andean Community may well disappear and then the question is, what happens to the orbital slot?”

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations affiliate, regulates access to orbital positions and wireless radio spectrum. It is unclear whether there is precedent for the ITU withdrawing a satellite network because the state entity owning it disappeared.

Guzman did not criticize SES — it was SES’s Dutch arm, formerly called SES New Skies, that signed the Andean contract — but said giving a Dutch company a 30-year concession to operate a commercial satellite is not what the Andean Community was created to do. The concession gives the Andean nations rights to a portion of the satellite capacity, but the deal is far removed from the original goal of a satellite devoted to promoting these nations’ development.