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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Simón Bolívar’s lost satellite

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For detailed biographical information, please check the very first article of this blog. Thanks!

Simón Bolívar, often called the “Liberator of the Americas,” was born in Caracas on July 24th, 1783 as the son of a large landowner. From 1799 on, the initially rebellious child received in Madrid the typical education of the era.

Widowed at a young age and influenced by Montesquieu, Rousseau and Voltaire, Bolívar was active in the secessionist movement from Spain since 1810 and became president of an independent Venezuela in 1821.

Ruling as dictator from 1828 and failing as a Pan-American, he abdicated power in early 1830. Impoverished and emaciated, he died on December 17th of the same year.

Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Chávez (1954- 2013) somehow got obsessed with this historical figure and, after coming to power in 1999, officially declared his country a Bolivarian Republic.

Chávez even decided to get this national hero involved in his own space program and name a satellite after Bolívar as part of the VENESAT-1 project promoted by the Ministry of Science and Technology (Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología) since 2004.

That year, conversations were initiated with the Russian Federal Space Agency in Moscow as in principle, an agreement with Russia was sought. Though in view of the latter’s refusal of a proposal for technology transfer, which included the training of technicians specialized in the management of the project, Venezuela decided to abandon its original idea.

It started talks with China, which approved the project. In this way, Venezuelan technicians would be trained in the corresponding technology, software development and technical training for handling the satellite from the ground.

According to the specifications of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the satellite was manufactured and placed in orbit by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Szechwan on October 29th, 2008 with an estimated useful life of fifteen years at a cost of over 400 million US dollars.

The Venezuelan Space Center (Centro Espacial Venezolano, CEV), created in 2005, was renamed Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities (Agencia Bolivariana para Actividades Espaciales, ABAE) in 2007.

From 2014 to 2019, it was administrated by the Ministry of Popular Power for Higher Education, Science and Technology (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Educación Universitaria, Ciencia y Tecnología).

Chávez hoped to produce the relevant technology himself. On October 9th, 2017 the Sucre Satellite (VRSS-2) was launched, apparently the first to be designed and assembled on Venezuelan soil.

The US company ExoAnalytic Solutions, which operates a network of tracking telescopes, detected that there had been a “significant change in orbit” on March 13th, 2020, when the satellite left its established position.

On March 25th, the new Ministry of People’s Power for Science and Technology (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Ciencia y Tecnología), informed through its social networks that after almost twelve years the VENESAT-1 wouldn’t continue providing telecommunications services due to a failure.

Considering the enormous problems that this Caribbean nation has been facing for years, the whole endeavor seems bizarre and is typical for Communist governments which want to distract attention from earthly issues. As a result, Simón Bolívar got lost in space…

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