A space program for Bolivia might seem a low priority given the South American nation’s internal challanges of poverty, inequality and lack of infrastructure.
Enter China, with the know-how, launch facilities and an established hunger for Latin American raw materials.
Australia boasts five Optus communications satellites (comsats) and recently launched three other satellites, but Central and South American countries have traditionally lagged behind in this area.
China has been busy building up space contracts with nations in the region. Venezuela launched its third satellite from Chinese soil in October and Bolivia is expected to get a second comsat from China by 2022.
In fact, in recent years, China has started to compete with US and European satellite companies globally. Satellite communications technology makes a lot of sense for a country like Bolivia, a mountainous, landlocked nation of 10.9 million people, Lluc Palerm, a senior analyst at space industry consultancy Northern Sky Research(NSR), told Fairfax Media.
“Unlike fibre or other ground alternatives, which would involve very large investments, satellites can connect remote places very quickly with fairly cheap terminals. That’s critical to bring communities online for remote education, eHealth and disaster response,” Palerm said.
The first satellite, launched from China in 2013, was named Túpac Katari 1 after a Bolivian who led an uprising against the Spanish. The Bolivian Space Agency (Agencia Boliviana Espacial or ABE), said it cost cost $US302 million, with 85 per cent of that financed with a Development Bank of China loan.