WASHINGTON — Argentina’s national satellite operator Arsat, undeterred by the growing coronavirus pandemic, expects to soon sign a contract with domestic manufacturer INVAP for a geostationary communications satellite.

Arsat, which has two satellites in orbit, had signed a contract with Arianespace to launch a third satellite in 2019 on an Ariane 5, but that satellite was never built. 

In an interview last week at the Satellite 2020 conference here, Arsat CEO Pablo Tognetti said the new Argentine government established in December has decided to finance a third satellite, reversing a decision from the previous administration. Arsat hopes to launch its third satellite in 2023, he said. 

Martin Fabris, Arsat’s space division manager, said by email March 18 that the contract signing will likely take about a month to close, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, during which about 80% of Arsat employees are working remotely. 

Argentina has reported 65 coronavirus cases and two deaths as of March 18, according to the World Health Organization. The country has a relatively small share of the reported coronavirus cases across the American continents, which WHO numbered at 4,979 confirmed and 68 deaths. 

Arsat’s  has renamed its planned third satellite, formerly referred to as  from Arsat-3, to has been renamed SG-1, short for Second Generation-1, Tognetti said. The name change reflects a shift to high-throughput Ka-band capacity, all-electric propulsion and an increased use of Argentine subsystems, he said. 

“We took advantage of that delay to go and start this new generation,” he said. 

While the delay produced some manufacturing benefits, it also introduced launch difficulties. Arianespace is phasing out the Ariane 5 rocket that Arsat contracted in favor of the next-generation Ariane 6, which has a first flight toward the end of this year. 

The last Ariane 5 launch is expected by 2022 at the latest, but SG-1 won’t be ready until 2023. Tognetti said Arsat is reviewing vehicles and will likely recompete the SG-1 launch. 

SG-1 will provide broadband connectivity to schools, hospitals and rural citizens beyond the reach of Arsat’s 30,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables, Tognetti said. 

Fabris said SG-1 will have at least 50 gigabits per second of total capacity covering Argentina and neighboring countries. The satellite will be a small GEO weighing just over 1,000 kilograms, with a design life of 15 years and a payload power of 7 kilowatts, he said. 

The satellite’s original design called for a chemical propulsion system, Fabris said. The delay gave INVAP time to develop an electric propulsion system, plus other components that were ordered for earlier satellites, according to Tognetti. 

Arsat is bound by Argentine law to procure satellites solely from Argentine manufacturers, Tognetti said, making state-owned INVAP the de facto supplier. 

INVAP built the Arsat-1 and Arsat-2 satellites. Each weighed roughly 3,000 kilograms and launched on Ariane 5 rockets, Arsat-1 in 2014 and Arsat-2 in 2015. 

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...