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Overtaken by Bolivia and Peru, Chile ponders its lost dream of the space race

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While Chile, Latin America’s most developed nation, lags in satellite equipment, poorer neighbor Peru has one of Latin America’s most powerful satellites, PeruSat-1, which provides imagery for mining and agriculture and controls illegal logging and drug trafficking.

Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia are countries that are not only located next to each other in South America but also have one thing in common: each country has its own space agency.

This has allowed them to achieve important goals: Brazilian Marcos Pontes became the first South American to reach the International Space Station. The Ecuadorian Civil Space Agency (EXA) was accepted into the International Astronautical Federation in 2008.

Read also: Check out our coverage on Chile

Venezuela has also made significant progress. After the creation of the Venezuelan Space Center (CEV) in 2005, later renamed the Bolivarian Space Activities Agency (ABAE), it has worked on three satellites: the VENESAT-1 (2008), the Miranda satellite (2012), and the Sucre satellite (2017).

e first of the ten satellites that will make up Chile’s National Satellite System (SNSat) will be put into orbit this year by SpaceX
The first of the ten satellites that will make up Chile’s National Satellite System (SNSat) will be put into orbit this year by SpaceX.

What about Chile? Unlike its South American neighbors, Chile does not have a space agency, although it is one of the pioneers in the region. Various reasons have led the country to gradually lose ground, despite the great benefits it could bring in various areas, such as monitoring natural disasters, providing high-speed Internet or defense support, among many others.


Chile first became involved with space in the 1950s, when the University of Chile signed an agreement with NASA to create the Center for Space Studies, which served as a satellite tracking station for the U.S. space agency until 1989 and as the University of Chile’s center until 2008 when it was sold to the Swedish Space Corporation.

As early as 1980, the Committee on Space Affairs was created, which established the first guidelines for developing public policy in this area.

After that, a series of commissions were created, such as the Space Affairs Committee (1980), the Presidential Advisory Commission called the Chilean Space Agency (2001), the Council of Ministers for the Development of Digital Media and Space with an Executive Secretariat in charge of Subtel (2013), and the Council of Ministers for the Development of Space (2015).

Among the most important milestones was the launch of the Fasat Alfa satellite (1995), which could not detach from the Ukrainian satellite to which it was attached. In this way, it became the first Chilean space junk.

Three years later, the Fasat Bravo company was established in Kazakhstan to conduct geographic, climatic, and economic studies of the country’s resources. In 2001, it ceased its activities.


One of the main aspects of Chile’s loss is the low level of funding allocated to space-related activities. Although the Presidential Advisory Commission members performed their duties ad honorem in 2001, as did the Advisory Committee, they had a budget of only US$28 million per year in 2019, according to the Chilean Space Association (ACHIDE).

In 2011, the Chilean Space Agency had 6 employees and a budget of about US$150 million. Two years later, it ceased operating.

Looking at the annual budget for satellite expenditures, Chile allocated only about US$164,000 dollars in 2016, far behind Argentina ($116 million), Brazil ($92 million), Peru ($75 million), and Bolivia ($30 million).

“There were times when we were way ahead, but suddenly we fell behind a bit in some things,” Klaus von Storch, Chilean astronaut candidate and one of Chile’s leading experts on space issues, told BioBioChile.

“As a country, we were one of the first countries to develop satellites, after Brazil and Argentina, but maybe we got a little stuck there. Bolivia and Peru have taken important steps in satellite development, and there are even some small countries that have created space agencies,” he adds.


Loreto Moraga, president of the Chilean Space Association, is emphatic that the picture is “very stark because in Latin America there are space agencies everywhere.”

“Virtually all countries today have an institutional framework that includes a space agency, an organization with its own autonomy, resources, and functional objective, which was not the case in Chile.

Moraga, also director of the Chilean Institute of Aerospace Law, points out that several attempts have been made over the past 40 years. Still, they have resulted in the mechanism of a council of ministers with a strategic function, but not a functional or operational one.

The agreement with SpaceX, the world’s main space shuttle company, was made possible thanks to earlier agreements that Musk’s company had signed with ImageSat.
Chile’s agreement with SpaceX, the world’s main space shuttle company, was made possible thanks to earlier agreements that Musk’s company had signed with ImageSat.

“And that’s where the big problem lies,” he says. “Moreover, they do not have a permanent function but meet when they are convened,” she says.

The president of the Chilean Helicopter Association also affirms that ACHIDE has thought about the issue and concluded that there is a lack of political will. “The political world is not yet really convinced of the need for such an institutional framework,” she says.

“We feel they have not recognized the importance of space activities, and that makes a difference between what we have today as developing space activities and what we had before,” he says.

Last May, the government announced the launch of the National Satellite System, an initiative that will see the construction of 10 satellites being launched into space between 2021 and 2025, several of which will be manufactured in Chile.

Defense Minister Baldo Prokurica explained that these high-resolution satellites would be monitored from three new stations in Punta Arenas, Santiago, and Antofagasta.

Also announced was the construction of a new National Space Center in Cerrillos, equipped with a laboratory for satellite construction, a command, and control center, a center for analysis and information processing, and a center for entrepreneurship and space innovation.

To this end, the government signed a contract with the Israeli consortium ImageSat, which was awarded the US$120 million project to allow our country to have “not just one satellite, as has been the case until now, but a true national constellation of 10 new satellites.”

In this regard, the Minister of Science and Technology, Andrés Couve, that this new satellite system includes three satellites weighing about 100 kg and the construction of seven nanosatellites in Chile.


The first of the ten satellites that will make up Chile’s National Satellite System (SNSat) will be put into orbit this year by SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk.

The ImageSat International contract will give Chile access to international constellations of some 250 satellites that are already in orbit and will provide a platform for launching the three mini-satellites (known as FASat Delta, FASat Echo 1, and FASat Echo 2) between now and 2024 and the seven microsatellites between 2023 and 2025.

“Eight of [the satellites] will be 100% built in Chile by Air Force technicians and engineers along with professionals from several Chilean universities,” Prokurica explained.

Both Delta and Echo 1 will be assembled in Israel (the first is nearly ready), while Echo 2 and the seven micro-satellites will be manufactured by the National Space Center (CEN) in Cerrillos, which will open next year.

The agreement with SpaceX, the world’s main space shuttle company, was made possible thanks to earlier agreements that Musk’s company had signed with ImageSat. SpaceX has developed rockets like the Falcon and manned vehicles such as the Dragon. It currently provides services to NASA and flies to the International Space Station.

Chile’s Defense Minister explained that, in addition to a laboratory for manufacturing satellites and payloads, “which will make a significant contribution to Chile’s scientific and technological development, defense and civil society,” the CEN will have a space enterprise and innovation center, a space mission control center and an entity for analyzing and processing geospatial data.

Meanwhile, there will be stations in Antofagasta, Santiago, and Punta Arenas to monitor the data that the satellites transmit, which will allow for a wider range and higher frequency of images at a lower cost.

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