China To Build, Launch Bolivian Telecom Satellite

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PARIS — The Bolivian government on April 1 signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese authorities under which China will build and launch Bolivia’s Tupac Katari telecommunications satellite, the Bolivian government announced.

Bolivian authorities did not say whether the agreement, which followed months of talks with China and the creation of the Bolivian Space Agency, means they have resolved frequency coordination issues that will make it difficult to operate a C- or Ku-band satellite in the geostationary arc covering Bolivia without infringing on international frequency-sharing rules.

Bolivian President Evo Morales in late 2009 appealed for coordination assistance from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations affiliate that regulates satellite slots and frequencies. ITU authorities had responded that the orbital arc over Latin America was crowded and that it would not be easy to find a slot. But they promised to work with Bolivia to find a solution.

Bolivia has certain fixed satellite services frequency rights at 34.8 degrees west longitude, and other broadcast-frequency rights at 87.2 degrees west. It was not clear which slot is intended for the Tupac Katari satellite.

Bolivia is also a member of the Andean Community of Nations, whose rights to the 67 degrees west slot are expiring in September under ITU rules because no satellite has been put into service there. These nations have struck a deal with satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg under which SES will move one of its in-orbit satellites to the slot to preserve the Andean nations’ rights to it. Ultimately SES expects to develop the position, with a new satellite, in partnership with these nations.

The Tupac Katari agreement was signed in La Paz in Morales’ presence by Willy Herbas, director of the Bolivian Space Agency, and Yin Liming, president of the China Great Wall Industry Corp., which markets China’s Long March rocket.

If the Bolivian deal is confirmed, it will be the second telecommunications satellite export for China this year, following a similar in-orbit delivery agreement with the government of Laos for Laosat-1. China has signed similar arrangements, which include loans from China for a large portion of the satellites’ construction and launch costs, with Nigeria, Venezuela and Pakistan.