Bolivia's first orbiting communications satellite, named Tupac Katari after a 18th century freedom fighter, will be designed with the help of Chinese technicians and launched into space atop a Chinese rocket booster in late 2013.
A Chinese technical delegation has been working with counterparts in the Bolivian cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz since January of 2011. With the groundwork in place, Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to Beijing where he formally announced the launch of the joint Bolivian-Chinese project on August 10th.
Tupac Katari was an indigenous leader who led resistance efforts against the Spanish colonizers of Bolivia in the 1780s. Once launched into orbit, the satellite will provide internet and telecommunication services to isolated areas of Bolivia. The net result will be improved educational and medical services and opportunities in these chronically deprived regions.
The Bolivian government is negotiating with China for a loan (through the China Development Bank) to cover 85 percent of the value of the satellite, which is estimated to cost as much as $300 million. As China has recently been improving its ties with Bolivia and cementing good relations with a series of financial and material gifts, financing the satellite shouldn't be a problem.
Upon completion of the satellite and routine testing, Tupac Katari will be shipped to the Xichang satellite launch center in southwestern China, where it will be mounted atop one of China's proven Long March rocket boosters.
If all goes well, the launch should take place near the end of 2013 or possibly early in 2014. Either way, the event will be a milestone for Bolivia, a landlocked South American nations with a poverty level of around 60%.
What does China get out of this unlikely partnership? Influence, and another friend in a far-flung part of the world. There may come a day when China feels the need to call upon their new-found friends and exercise their influence... and on that day, money spent boosting a poor country into the Space Age (among other international favors) will be seen as a very good investment indeed. (via Reuters and The South Journal)