Argentina is launching a geostationary communications satellite Thursday that was built at home with local technology, a first for Latin America.
The ARSAT-1, the product of seven years of work by a team of 400 specialists, will be launched from French Guiana at 6:00 pm (2100 GMT).
It will ride a French-made Ariane 5 rocket into transitional orbit, where an Argentine team will guide it toward its fixed orbital longitude of 71.8 degrees west, 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles) above earth.
From there, it will provide cell phone, digital TV, Internet and data services to the lower half of South America.
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has said the launch puts Argentina in an “elite club” of countries capable of producing satellites whose orbits are synchronized with the turning of the Earth, enabling them to hold their position over a fixed spot.
“Today is a historic day,” cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich told journalists.
The $270-million, 3,400-watt satellite was developed by Argentine state engineering firm Invap and Argentine Satellite Solutions (ARSAT), a private company.
It has an estimated shelf life of 15 years.
Its propulsion system and cargo hold were purchased in Europe, but Argentina built the solar panels, carbon-fiber structure, onboard computer and operating software itself.
“It’s an exercise in satellite sovereignty,” said Capitanich.
The launch was a welcome bit of good news for the Argentine government, which is struggling to revive a drooping economy and battling a US court decision blocking it from making payments on debt tied up in a $1.3 billion dispute with two hedge funds.