First Brazilian Satellite Now in Operation
By Taciana Moury/Diálogo August 30, 2017Brazilian military communications are becoming even more secure. The Brazilian Armed Forces now have a Geostationary Defense and Communications Satellite (SGDC, per its Portuguese acronym). Set in orbit in May, the equipment allows for government and military communications to be made securely and will also expand broadband service offerings in Brazil’s most remote regions. Control of the satellite is the responsibility of the Space Operations Center (COPE, per its Portuguese acronym), a unit that is under the Brazilian Air Force’s (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) Aerospace Operations Command (COMAE, per its Portuguese acronym). COPE has facilities in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, where it monitors all military communications via satellite. The center’s operations are conducted jointly with the Army and Navy through a multidisciplinary team. After entering orbit, the satellite remained under manufacturer control while undergoing acceptance testing. According to FAB Colonel Marcelo Vellozo Magalhães, the commander of COPE, the operations center continuously monitored the entire data stream during the acceptance testing phase. “When COPE activated the secure communications cryptography and the manufacturer no longer had access to the equipment, the satellite began operating exclusively under Brazil’s control, thus ensuring the sovereignty of our communications through the Aerospace Operations Command,” Col. Magalhães noted. The inauguration of these FAB-coordinated activities took place in July by video conference between the authorities at COMAE’s headquarters in Brasilia and Minister of Defense Raul Jungmann, who was in the town of Vilhena in Rondônia (northern Brazil), nearly 2,000 kilometers away. In attendance were FAB General Nivaldo Luiz Rossato, the general commander of Aeronautics, and FAB General Gerson Nogueira Machado de Oliveira, the commander of COMAE at the time. On that occasion, Minister Jungmann said that it was a historic moment for the nation and stressed the satellite’s importance for Brazil’s defense and sovereignty. “We are operating a satellite that is the first to be duly encrypted and under our control. This is not just a military project for national defense and sovereignty. It obviously also represents a big step forward for our autonomy and our independence in terms of foreign media, so that we can move forward with our own communications,” he said. That video conference marked the linking of border patrol Operation Ostium with the SGDC. Col. Magalhães explained that they are also discussing some tests for linking the satellite with command-and-control networks. “All our military operations, such as Operations Ágata and Ostium, use various communications and data networks for their coordination and for their command and control. But operational testing is still being conducted with the SDGC. In this phase, the users’ equipment is being configured and tested for operability with the satellite,” he added. Information security “The security of our satellite monitoring and control operations is ensured by modulation and cryptography techniques,” Col. Magalhães explained, adding that the satellite also has anti-jamming features. “Military communications are also protected by modulation and cryptography techniques,” he said. Another advantage of the SGDC is that it can operate on an X-band frequency, which is a band of the electromagnetic spectrum used for military communications. According to Col. Magalhães, that frequency band is less susceptible to atmospheric or weather conditions, making it ideal for traditional military operations. “The military portion of the SGDC satellite uses this band, and it enjoys viability for its communications at all times in an area that extends from the Antarctic to the North Atlantic,” he added. For Col. Magalhães, the SGDC plays an essential role in strategic military communications that are essential for coordinating operations related to defending Brazilian airspace. “The fact that the satellite is controlled by service members and that it remains within the scope of a military organization guarantees the secrecy and security of our communications. In addition, this equipment will be available and operational at any time, whether in a crisis situation or a conflict,” he said. Geostationary satellite Weighing 5.8 tons and measuring 5 meters high, the SGDF is positioned at a distance of 36,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, covering the entire territory of Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean. The satellite has an 18-year operational capacity. The SGDC is the product of a partnership between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications, and represented an investment of approximately $850 million. The equipment was acquired by Telecomunicações Brasileiras, a Brazilian telecommunications company, for use in strategic government communications, and also to expand broadband service offerings throughout the country, especially in the most remote areas. According to information from the Air Force Agency (AFA), the SGDC will expand the military’s capacity to conduct its mission. For example, during joint operations in regions along the nation’s land borders, during rescue operations on the high seas, and also for controlling Brazilian airspace. Gen. Rossato introduced the SGDC’s operational advantages during a public hearing in May at the Chamber of Deputies (Brazil’s lower house of Congress) in Brasilia. According to information from AFA, Gen. Rossato briefed the members of parliament on the successful launching of this first Brazilian satellite and announced that the requirements for a second SGDC are being drafted.