SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched Argentina’s SAOCOM-1B satellite into polar orbit, a flight path quite different from most vehicles launched from the East Coast of the U.S. which normally head eastward. The polar path runs mostly north to south over the Earth’s poles. This is the first time in 50 years that a rocket launched from Florida has taken this path.
Considered to be the most important achievement in Argentina’s space history, SAOCOM-1B is the result of collaboration among the National Space Activities Commission (CONAE), the National Atomic Energy Commission, the state-run high-tech company INVAP, and the National University of La Plata, among others. It is also part of the Italo-Argentine Satellite System (Siasge), along with four other satellites of the Italian Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed Constellation. There is extensive international cooperation on the project as several nations are involved in satellite tracking and communication.
The product of ten years of work, SAOCOM-1B’s launch is a source of tremendous national pride, particularly since the previous neoliberal President Mauricio Macri had done everything possible to undermine and defund the country’s scientific progress. CONAE reported President Alberto Fernández as saying last night, “In the middle of a complex pandemic with all its difficulties, we didn’t stop this undertaking that began in 2007. We celebrate and are so proud of our scientists … seeing them standing up, working, [filled with] emotion because they see that their work has meaning. Congratulations Argentines; today we are a little better than before!” Foreign Minister Felipe Sola added, “[T]his is the result of a state that invests in science and technology for the economic and social development of our country; this is how we build sovereignty!”
Built entirely in Argentina, the sophisticated SAOCOM-1B is equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which will allow it to perform complex and sensitive meteorological tasks, measuring the humidity of the soil, and tracking natural disasters, flood control, etc., all of which are crucial to Argentina’s all-important agriculture sector. A top team from CONAE, led by its executive director Raul Kulichevsky, has been at Cape Canaveral for the past two months preparing for the launch, coordinating with teams back in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Bariloche. Only a small number of countries are capable of producing satellites of this type, and thus there is significant demand for Argentina’s collaboration in helping other countries build them.