New Trends of Space Development Seen from Latin America’s High-profile Space Event
On May 23–24, 2023, LATSAT, a conference encompassing the space sector in the Latin American region, was held in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and was organized by Euroconsult, a space consulting firm, which was joined by Argentina’s state-owned ARSAT, an Argentine state-owned satellite-related company, and the Argentine government are sponsors of LATSAT.
Many government officials from Latin American countries (LATAM region) gathered at LATSAT. The president of Argentina even came to the venue at short notice, indicating the importance of the event. Topics also covered many fields, focusing on satellite communications and observation satellites.
Warpspace’s CSO, Hirokazu Mori, attended the event and participated in a panel discussion. In this article, in addition to the event, we will briefly introduce Argentina’s space development, which may be unfamiliar to Japanese people.
Space Development in Argentina, the Leader in South America
In addition to the government officials from Latin American countries mentioned earlier, executives from startup companies in Latin American countries were also in attendance at LATSAT. Perhaps because of this, Mori said, the atmosphere was unique, with Spanish and Portuguese being spoken in addition to English. Among them, Argentina, where even the country’s president participated, had a special presence in the Latin American space development scene.
Argentina, where LATSAT was held, is known as one of the leading space powers in Latin America. Although Argentina is a latecomer to the space development scene compared to Western countries, it is known as one of the strongest space countries in Latin America, and thanks to the contribution of the Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE), Argentina’s state-run space agency, it has established a platform that allows everyone to access earth observation data. The platform has also been developed, and the environment of the base has been considerably improved.
In addition to the existence of CONAE, Mori says that space startups from Argentina should also be paid attention to. These include the aforementioned ARSAT, a satellite-related company; INVAP, an equipment manufacturer based in Argentina with global operations; VENG, which is involved in a wide range of activities from launches to satellite operations; and ReOrbit, which is involved in the development of bus components for optical communication satellites provided by Warpspace and others, which is more substantial than in other Latin American countries.
Argentina has also been particularly active in the broadband market, launching several communications satellites, including a satellite service provided by telecommunications giant Hughes. Also from Argentina is Satellogic, which is building a constellation of observation satellites equipped with high-resolution optical imaging, video, and hyperspectral sensors. The two co-founders of Skyloom, which provides optical communication relay services similar to those of Warpspace, are also from Argentina, and many of their employees are from Argentina.
Background of Argentina’s Breakthrough in Space Development: Significance of Ground Stations Close to Polar Regions
The reason for Argentina’s breakthrough can be seen by tracing its history (*1). In 1949, Argentina’s first space enthusiast organization, the Argentine Interplanetary Association (SAI), was formed under Teofilo Mercor Tabanera, an electromechanical engineer. The SAI was the only organization from the Latin American region to participate in the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) when it was founded.
The political situation in Argentina was then turbulent, with economic depression, hyperinflation, debt, and military dictatorship (1976–1983). Still, despite this, Argentine engineers kept going, and in 1991 the aforementioned Argentine National space agency CONAE was established.
CONAE has since achieved many successes, including the launch of four Earth observation satellites, SAC-A/B/C/D, between 1998 and 2011, in collaboration with NASA, while from 1997 onward, CONAE signed several cooperation agreements with the European Space Agency (ESA) to strengthen ties with Western countries. CONAE has become an important partner to these Western space agencies, providing ground stations for ESA’s and NASA’s deep-space probes, including the Rosetta comet probe, the Cassini Saturn probe, and Earth observation satellites. In recent years, the National Space Administration of China has also entered into a partnership to establish a deep-space tracking station in the Patagonia region of Argentina to support Chinese lunar and interplanetary spacecraft.
Since many satellites orbit over the North and South Poles, known as “polar orbits,” constructing a ground station at the North or South Poles will allow the satellites to communicate with each other as they circle the Earth. Ground station operations require power grids and optical fiber to deliver data downlinked from the satellite to customers. Therefore, the hurdle to establishing a ground station in Antarctica, where the infrastructure is not well developed, is high, making Argentina, with its proximity to Antarctica and well-developed infrastructure, a very important land from the perspective of satellite operations.
With this background, Argentina has concluded partnership agreements for ground stations with countries worldwide, for example, with China for using 10% of its antennas (*2), returning the returns from international partnerships to its communications satellite business. This is one of the reasons why the telecommunications satellite business is growing in Argentina.
(*1 [Reference: Hackernoon] Argentina’s Steady And Visionary Path To Space Is An Inspiring Tale)
(*2 [Reference: Science Potal China] China’s Satellite Tracking Station To Be Installed In Argentina)
(*3 [Reference: Ren et al., (2021). Journal of Geophysical Research] Electron Density Reconstruction by Ionospheric Tomography From the Combination of GNSS and Upcoming LEO Constellations)
How will Warpspace relate to Argentina in the future?
As mentioned earlier, the satellite communications industry has been very important in Argentina due to the country’s geographic location. Warpspace’s proposal for inter-satellite optical communications is a new technology covering this field. In recent years, optical communications have attracted much attention as an important elemental technology for realizing satellite constellations, in which many satellites communicate in complex ways. On the other hand, the high data rate of optical communications enables a large amount of data to be transmitted by a few communication satellites. Argentina certainly has a thriving satellite communications industry, but the number of satellites it owns is not as large as those in Europe and the United States. However, once optical communication technology is established, even countries like Argentina that do not yet own a large number of satellites will be able to build a robust high-capacity communication network as if they had deployed many satellites, and thus may be able to enjoy the benefits of optical communication technology more than Western countries.
The rapid development of digital services such as cashless payment in Africa and other emerging economies, skipping the innovation stage seen in developed countries such as Europe and the United States, is called “Leap Frog” type development, analogous to a frog leaping with great vigor. This is what Argentina and Hikari Tsushin are doing. Argentina and optical communication are the perfect combinations for this leapfrog to be born. By participating in LATSAT and the panel discussion, Warpspace demonstrated its presence as a cutting-edge optical communications provider in Argentina. This country could become an important market for the next generation of optical communications.
(Writer: Junichiro Nakazawa)