Latin American Countries with Space Programs: Colleagues or Competitors?

By Newberry, Robert D. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Latin American Countries with Space Programs: Colleagues or Competitors?


Newberry, Robert D., Air & Space Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: Colonel Newberry's three-tiered analysis of Latin American space programs identifies (1) owner/operator states with mature space programs, (2) material participants with well-developed research and intellectual capabilities, and (3) countries that willingly participate in space programs with other nations by means of intellectual or capital contributions.

SPACE TECHNOLOGY, NOW taken for granted, is an accepted part of modern life. Space-derived products and services for communications, imagery, navigation, and weather forecasting are available to everyone around the world, even in less-developed and underdeveloped regions. Every country in Latin America has access to a wide variety of space-based services. Telecommunications are available through International Telecommunications Satellites (INTELSAT), International Maritime Satellites (INMARSAT), and Iridium telephones, in addition to many satellite television and radio broadcasts throughout the hemisphere. News reporters routinely use satellite-communications videophones for live reporting in remote areas of Latin America. Space-derived imagery products are available from indigenous regional satellites, several commercial-imagery satellites, and the Internet. The Global Positioning System provides free navigation services, and that system's receivers are prevalent throughout Latin America. Regionally specific weather information is available from space-based systems. These space services have become pervasive due to their relatively low cost and the ability to access most of them by means of handheld units, small-dish antennae, or the Internet. As a region, Latin America has shown significant interest in developing indigenous space capabilities to assist with managing resources and exercising sovereignty. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru in particular have participated in space programs beyond the level of merely subscribing to a satellite service.

The United States should routinely review Latin American space programs to ascertain their impact on its national-security interests. The primary such interest at stake with foreign space developments is the dual-use nature of space-launch technology. Space-launch missiles are inherently capable of being used for attacks against the United States. To date, the US ballistic missile defense program has focused on launches coming over the North Pole; those originating from south of the border could significantly complicate missile defense operations or render current plans ineffective. A secondary US national-security concern involves understanding the technical sophistication of foreign space systems to ensure that countermeasures can be developed to mitigate any military advantage they offer. Based on these two interests, the United States has pursued a policy of thwarting Latin American countries' missile developments while generally ignoring their space programs, considering them technically unsophisticated. Such a policy may not serve US long-term interests and should be reconsidered, based upon a better understanding of Latin American space needs and purposes. With an eye toward formulating a new space policy for the region, this article reviews the most significant space programs in Latin American countries and categorizes those nations as either colleagues or competitors of the United States.

This article also rates the space capabilities of Latin American countries on a decreasing scale from three to one. Level three includes those countries with a mature space program and an indigenous capability to own or operate space systems. They do not have the capability to independently produce large-scale spacecraft and launch them, but they do have the infrastructure and technical capability to develop spacecraft hardware. Level two describes those countries that have the research capabilities and intellectual capital needed to engage in a space program as material participants. …

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