Argentina Urges Brazil to Promote South American Space Agency
By Dialogo September 09, 2011
Argentine Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli has proposed the establishment of a South American Space Agency along the lines of the highly successful European Space Agency — an idea enthusiastically supported by Brazil.
Puricelli made his suggestion at an Aug. 30 defense seminar in São Paulo. He argued that the initiative is very much tied to both countries’ defense since, in the future, much more territory will be controlled and protected from space.
“Our communications are dependent on the provision of services that are provided by satellites from other countries in other regions, and we must join forces to access space through a South American Space Agency,” explained Puricelli, taking part in the first meeting between Argentine and Brazilian defense ministers since Celso Amorim replaced Nelson Jobim on Aug. 8 as Brazil’s top defense official.
The Aug. 30 seminar, titled “National Defense Transformation,” was part of a year-long series of conferences to promote Brazil’s first national white paper on defense. In fact, Puricelli said that Brazilian aerospace capabilities are fundamental to this project.
“What is stopping us?” he asked panelists. “The challenge for our ministries is to create a South American space plan and have our own satellites by 2025. South America has a lot to defend.”
Despite the fact that space initiatives fall under the domain of their countries’ respective space agencies, both defense ministers are now promoting the cause as a matter of national defense. Amorim said that Brazil considers the initiative positive and appropriate as “it would contribute to trust among South American countries, transforming them into a security community.”
In 2005, the late Argentine President Nestor Kirchner signed a decree declaring space technology advancement a state policy and a national priority. Since then, the Argentine Space Development Program has promoted the idea of a South American Space Agency similar to the 18-member ESA, which is based in Paris and has an annual budget of around $5.6 billion.
By comparison, Argentina’s National Space Plan 2004-15 has earmarked around $240 million for investments in science and technology.
Both Argentina and Brazil have advanced in aerospace research and development over the past decade. Argentina, in particular, has done so with considerable cooperation from the United States.
“We’re going to see a lot of this type of collaboration between Argentina and Brazil, though it will only work as long as Argentina avoids the mistakes of the past when it would pull out from joint projects early, claiming budgetary constraints,” said Andrei Serbin Pont, a regional defense specialist and the communications coordinator of CRIES [Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales], a regional non-governmental organization.
“Such was the case with Brazil´s nuclear submarines, which it was originally going to develop together with Argentina but later chose France owing to its neighbor’s problems in accessing the necessary funds,” Serbin Pont explained. “I think, however, we can be more optimistic about cooperation in the space industry because it’s a sector that is receiving a lot of attention and funding by the government.”
Dr. Fabián Calle, an Argentine defense specialist and professor at Catholic and Di Tella universities in Buenos Aires, seconded that opinion. “The sector is experiencing a renaissance under the Kirchner governments and is well-financed and supported personally by President Cristina Fernández,” he said.
Serbin Pont explained: “In both Argentina and Brazil, the strategy of modernizing the armed forces has gone hand-in-hand with the development of national defense industries. In Brazil, lots of funding has accompanied the strategy. That has not always been the case in Argentina, with the exception of INVAP, the Rio Negro-based state-run company, which has strong, defense technology-related projects.”
Serbin Pont said that Brazil has much clearer strategic guidelines as set out in its 2008 National Defense Strategy, which will be elaborated on in an upcoming defense white paper due out early next year. Argentina, on the other hand, is experiencing a period of reflection and change in an attempt to make its armed forces more efficient and competitive.
“The traditional conflict hypothesis doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, these countries are focused on protecting national territory and their natural resources,” he said. “All the branches of Argentina’s armed forces are in some way working to protect natural resources. Its navy, for example, has an important role in patrolling the country’s exclusive economic zone, reserved for Argentina by international maritime law but often violated by rogue international fishermen.”
Brazil, on the other hand, has clearly laid out its three priority areas for territorial surveillance: the dense Amazon rainforest, the so-called Blue Amazon off the northern Brazilian coast, and the South Atlantic, where it found vast, deepwater oil reserves in 2007.
While all regional satellites are intended for civilian use, they could always be used for defense purposes if necessary. “They are dual-purpose technologies in the sense that they would work for both civilian and military purposes. If the need arose, which is very improbable, they could be used for territorial defense,” explained Calle.
Brazil has had a tumultuous experience trying to put its locally designed rockets into orbit. As a result, it has yet to launch a satellite into orbit on its own, and has suffered several setbacks with three satellite launch failures. The latest, in August 2003, ended in an explosion of a VLS-1 rocket at its Alcântara Launch Centre, killing 21 people. The accident delayed Brazil’s space program, in large part because many of the dead were scientists and engineers who had worked on the program.
In collaboration with NASA, Argentina’s space agency, CONAE, has successfully launched four SAC earth satellites since the mid-1990s. The SAC-series satellites are primarily intended to garner information from Argentina and neighboring countries about productive activities related to the sea, soil, water, geology, climate, environmental monitoring, natural resources and mapping. The latest, known as SAC-D, was built by INVAP and launched from the United States this June. Like Brazil, however, it has yet to launch into orbit a satellite independently.
While the South American Space Agency remains an Argentine dream for now, it appears evident that Brazil wants to work with Argentina. A joint space program would add to existing cooperative ventures including the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission in Haiti, the manufacture of aircraft in Argentina’s Córdoba province, and the production of the Gaucho — a light 4x4 multi-terrain vehicle that can be transported by air and intended to equip the armies of both countries.
In a Sept. 5 talk given at the National Defense College in Buenos Aires, Amorim declared that Argentina is Brazil’s most important strategic partner. He said his country aims for a “peaceful, but not a defenseless” region with “dissuasion capabilities” to protect South America’s natural resources including water, food, biodiversity and the environment.
At that event, he and Puricelli also ratified their countries’ commitment to maintaining the South Atlantic as a nuclear-free zone. Amorim noted that “for Brazil, nothing has been more important than rapprochement with Argentina, overcoming historical rivalries.”
And if they reach an agreement, when will they implement it? Are they going to do it? Please respond to me. Excellent,if it is true. An example is given by UNASUR. There should exist a South American space agency. First of all, investments in education (Brazil seems to be following a correct path with the approval of 10% of its GDP for education during the next 10 years), followed by investment in science and technology I hope that everything works alright. We (South-Americans) must be united, and stop with those silly rivalries regarding soccer.