Venezuela launches satellite IT centres, but is it making full use of Venesat-1?

9 Jun 2009

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Agency for Space Activities has reported that four community ICT ‘info-centres’ have been opened in the states of Falcon, Monagas, Tachira and Aragua, which are directly connected to the Simon Bolivar (Venesat-1) satellite launched by the country in cooperation with China in October 2008. The space agency added that there are 50 info-centres either currently or lined up to be connected via Venesat-1, providing free access to internet and telecoms services. A total of 653 info-centres are part of a network of 3,187 ‘community technology centres’. The state’s goal is to serve all remote community facilities via Venesat-1.

Jesse Chacon, head of the Ministry of People’s Power for Science, Technology & Intermediate Industries, stated that the setting up of the community satellite facilities confirmed that the Simon Bolivar orbiter was ‘in perfect condition’, contrary to concerns voiced online recently by independent observers puzzled at its apparent lack of utilisation since launch.

An independent satellite consultant speaking to TeleGeography yesterday pointed out that the length of time taken by Venezuela to get substantial services up and running is unusual, especially considering that the satellite launch programme cost USD400 million and has a maximum life span of approximately 15 years. US defence monitoring evidence sourced by an article in Venezuelan online publication confirmed that the satellite is in its correct position and under control, although this does not give a full picture of its operational status. Whilst there may be no technical problems with Venesat-1, observers have raised the criticism that mismanagement may be to blame for delays in the initial rollout of services.

Two Chinese satellite launches of a similar type to Venesat-1 have both been delayed recently. In February 2009 Chinese TV broadcast satellite SinoSat-6 had its planned launch delayed from the end of 2009 to the second half of 2010, whilst in March 2009 the launch of China’s second direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting satellite, SinoSat-4, was suspended again, after its launch was put back from an original date of January 2009. A Chinese-built satellite almost identical to Venesat-1, Nigeria’s NIGCOMSAT-1, catastrophically failed last year.

Also speaking to TeleGeography yesterday, a freelance satellite correspondent working for Asia Times Online was assured that Venesat-1 is operationally sound by a representative of China Great Wall Industries (the entity in charge of all Chinese commercial satellite exports as well as China’s satellite launch services provider).