WASHINGTON — A firm that bought discounted government bonds during Argentina’s financial crisis has asked a U.S. judge to halt the launch of a joint U.S.-Argentine satellite slated to lift off next month from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

In a lawsuit filed April 25 in a U.S federal district court, NML Capital Ltd. is seeking to impound the SAC-D/Aquarius satellite, currently undergoing final tests and preparation for launch at Vandenberg, until it obtains financial redress from the Argentine government, which allegedly owes some $1.5 billion to the Cayman Islands-based investment firm.

The U.S. Justice Department, in a response filed May 3 with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, argued that an injunction would disrupt the Aquarius/SAC-D mission and cost NASA money.

“Filing just weeks before the launch, and after the space agencies of the United States, Argentina, France, Italy and Canada have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars and years of human capital, [the] Plaintiff baldly states that enjoining the launch ‘will have no effect on the satellite mission other than to impose a lien on Argentina’s interest in it.’ That is wrong,” the U.S. Justice Department said in its filing.

NML, which bought Argentine bonds at a steep discount during Argentina’s financial crisis in 2001 and 2002, refused to settle when Argentina offered to buy back the bonds at 30 cents in 2005. Since then, NML has successfully sued Argentina in U.S. courts for failure to pay principal and interest on the bonds, winning a series judgments valued in excess of $1.5 billion, U.S. court records show. 

Delaware-based Spaceport Systems International, a launch services company that is prepping the Argentine-built spacecraft and its Aquarius instrument, built by NASA, is also named in NML’s current suit.

SAC-D/Aquarius, a long-planned scientific mission, is slated to launch atop a Delta 2 rocket June 9.

Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, said May 12 the agency is continuing to work toward the June 9 launch.



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