BUENOS AIRES, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Argentina is developing satellite-launching capability with the hope of garnering some of the new business currently going to China.
Several of Argentina's neighbors are in the process of launching satellites with Chinese help, and others are actively considering an early entry into the Space Age. Although Argentina, too, has signed up for space cooperation with China, officials said the satellite program would be launched with the nation's own resources.
Analysts said Argentina could see satellite technology development not only as a new line of business but also as a way of bolstering defense capability amid a continuing row with Britain over a sovereignty claim on the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory.
Buenos Aires' claim over the Falklands erupted into a bloody conflict in 1980, when an Argentine force led by the country's military junta invaded the territories but was beaten back by Britain in a 74-day war that took more than 1,000 lives. Argentina signed its surrender but never gave up its claim on the Falklands.
Exactly how debt-ridden Argentina will finance its satellite program remains unclear. Argentina has set 2013 as the target date for joining the club of countries currently able to launch satellites for their own use or for clients. Aside from the United States, Russia and the European Union, the list includes Japan and Israel.
Earlier this year Iran became the 11th nation to launch its own satellite into Earth's orbit. However, at least one of those countries, Iraq, is now seen unlikely to have retained that capacity after it launched a satellite under Saddam Hussein in 1989.
Conrado Varotto, chief executive officer of Argentina's National Committee of Space Activities, told the media Argentina expects to build and launch its satellite at a fourth of the going cost "anywhere else."
Varotto indicated Argentina was tired of begging other countries to help it with putting its own satellites into orbit.
It was not clear if he included China and India. Both have built their space capabilities at a fraction of the costs incurred in Europe and North America.
"With the needed resources, we estimate that by 2013 we could be launching the first space vehicle," he said.
Varotto said Argentina's satellite program would have the capacity to put into orbit satellites weighing 550-900 pounds.
All aspects of the program, including the engine and navigation systems, would be developed in Argentina, and the country's Puerto Belgrano military base is likely to be the launch pad, he said.
Several Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, have received Chinese aid for their satellite launch programs.