A friend from China sends me this article on the problems of the
Chinese satellite that was supposed to give Venezuela some form of
technological “independence”, which leads me to ask:
What have we gained after spending US$ 400 million, if not even the
Chinese can figure out what the problem is?
Have we paid for it yet?
What happens now to the base station with no satellite?
Did the satellite have a warranty?
Was there a backup plan for communications?
What happens now to the stupid slogan of some Venezuelan “scientific”
institutions which had all their letterheads saying: “2009 The year of
the Simon Bolivar satellite”?
Simply another Chavez folly gone awry…
A 3 billion yuan (HK$3.4 billion) satellite China built and launched
for Venezuela in late October had encountered some serious operational
glitches that Chinese engineers were striving to fix, space-industry
sources confirmed yesterday.
Details of the malfunction are unknown, and satellite experts are
divided on the cause of the issue, as only a handful of self-detecting
sensors are on board and the information they pass down is limited.
The technicians are anxious, as there is little time left for debate.
The Simon Bolivar Satellite – a 5-tonne communications device for
radio, television and data transmission – was launched at the Xichang
Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan on October 30. It is being tested
and official service is scheduled to begin in February.
If the handover is postponed or aborted it would be a blow to the
Venezuelan government, which has touted the satellite as proof that
Latin American countries can achieve a technological breakthrough
without US assistance.
The incident would also hinder China’s ambitious and rapidly growing
“space diplomacy”, aimed at forging political and economic alliances
with developing countries – especially oil- or mineral-rich nations in
South America and Africa – by admitting them to the space club at an
But the reputation of China’s space programme would suffer the most,
industry experts say, as it represented the second failure of another
country’s satellite within a month.
Nigcomsat-1, a communication satellite built and launched for Nigeria
last year, failed on November 11 because of a solar-panel breakdown.
The failure was announced by the China Great Wall Industry
Corporation, the international outlet of the China Aerospace Science
and Technology Corporation, which then sacked a senior official in
charge of the programme, sending shock waves through the industry.
The nation rarely sacks senior officials for satellite failures, as
space missions often encounter problems. The unusually severe
punishment came partly because Nigcomsat-1 was China’s first exported
The country hoped it could open the international satellite market
long dominated by the United States and Russia.
The punishment was harsh because a product-quality flaw on the solar
panel was “utterly unpreventable”, a satellite expert with the Chinese
Academy of Space Technology said.
“In a space project, we can make two kinds of mistakes. One is
unpreventable because we might be using a new technology, exploring a
new environment or be caught by an issue that we had not heard of
“In this case, you would not expect to be punished,” the professor said.
“But if you mess up a mission because of management blunders, such as
bypassing necessary quality checks, you must take responsibility.” The
professor said the Nigcomsat-1 satellite had been hastily built to
meet a very tight deadline.