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New Oil Money Fueling Modest Space Dreams and Political Heartburn

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

June 02, 2011

New Oil Money Fueling Modest Space Dreams and Political Heartburn

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Venezuela all have two things in common: Oil wealth and expanding space ambitions. Two of the three countries have put in orders for satellites, with the third starting its own space agency and hinting it will add a satellite of its own.

Azerspace/Africasat-1a is being built by Orbital Sciences (News - Alert) Corporation for $120 million dollars, according to Bloomberg. Azerbaijan's first communication satellite is expected to be launched in 2012 and if all goes well, the country will buy a second satellite within two years after the first launch, says Deputy Information Technology minister Elmir Valizada. The U.S. Export-Import bank is covering 85 percent of the total cost on a 10 year loan, while state funds will cover the rest.

Launch of the satellite is expected to take place in July or August 2012 from French Guyana on an Arianespace (News - Alert) Ariane 5 dual-payload mission. The hybrid C- and Ku-band satellite is based on Orbital's STAR-2 platform and carry a total of 36 transponders, 24 C-band and 12 Ku-band. Positioned at 46 degrees East through an arrangement with Malaysia, the satellite will provide communications services to Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Europe, and Africa.

The Azerbaijan government says the satellite will be used only for commercial communications, but some Armenian groups are worried the capability could be applied to retaking the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic enclave which broke away from Azerbaijan in 1994.

Turkmenistan has announced it is going to form its own space agency, reports Digital Journal and other sources. Located north of Afghanistan and Iran and south of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia, the former Soviet state has plenty of oil and gas.  SpaceX (News - Alert) says it will launch a satellite for the country in 2014, according to an Associated Press report.

But it's the Venezuela-China deal that is stirring the most buzz. China's Great Wall Industry Corporation will build VRSS-1 (Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite) for a cost of around $140 million, says El Universal. The observation satellite will be used for environment management applications, urban planning, monitoring troop deployments and illegal mining. Launch is set for October 2012.

China also built and launched Venezuela's first satellite, Venesat-1. Put into orbit in 2008, the communications satellite has 12 C- and 14 Ku-band transponders and is at 78 degrees West. It is expected to have a service life around 15 years.  The two countries have previously cooperated on a range of issues, including weapons sales -- much to the chagrin of U.S. policy-makers.

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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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