Cablegate: Mtcr: Update On Argentina's Space Launch Vehicle (Slv)


DE RUEHBU #1263/01 3371749
R 031749Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/03

REF: STATE 01759

CLASSIFIED BY: Thomas P. Kelly, DCM, State, EXEC; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary: ESTHCouns met on December 2 with Conrado Varotto,
Executive Director of CONAE (the Argentine space agency), to
discuss the latest developments in Argentina's space launch vehicle
(SLV) program (reftel). Varotto reported three unsuccessful ground
tests of the SLV engine and said that a fourth would take place
shortly. He reiterated his commitment to full transparency about
the SLV program. Varotto also expressed serious concerns about
recent developments that could force CONAE to share part of or even
surrender its Cordoba space center for the fabrication of military
solid fuel rockets, a project allegedly pushed by Planning Minister
Julio De Vido. Varotto said he had asked Foreign Minister Jorge
Taiana to personally appeal to President Cristina Fernandez de
Kirchner (CFK) and explain that to share the space center with
military fabrication would spell the end of Argentina's civilian
space program. End Summary.

2. (C) Varotto first provided updates on the development of the
SLV. So far, he said, CONAE had conducted three tests of the
engine on the ground, all three unsuccessful, with a fourth test
planned for mid-December. The engine exploded in the first two
tests, due to liquid fuel leaks, and failed on the third, due to
materials problems with the exhaust. Varotto noted that CONAE has
no intention of attempting a launch until the engine is thoroughly
and successfully tested on the ground.

3. (C) Varotto also informed ESTHCouns about the planned launch on
December 17 of a sounding rocket by the Ministry of Defense's
research agency, CITEFA. He noted that he had received an
invitation from CITEFA to attend the launch, which erroneously
touted it as part of the SLV program. Varotto said he had written
to CITEFA to protest this characterization and to decline to attend
the launch. He explained that CONAE had only requested from CITEFA
that it allow CONAE to fit test guidance equipment atop the
sounding rocket in order to test the equipment at high altitude,
nothing more. By no means is CONAE cooperating with CITEFA on the
SLV development, he stressed.

4. (C) Varotto was worried about what could be perceived as a
""militarization"" of CONAE's purely civilian SLV development
program. He reiterated his complete commitment to transparency and
wanted to ensure that Washington was informed. He believed that
CITEFA had misunderstood the extent of its cooperation with CONAE.
""We have no written agreement to cooperate with CITEFA on the space
launch vehicle,"" Varotto said, ""and it makes no sense for us to do
so."" He explained that the SLV is designed as a liquid fuel
launcher, while CITEFA only handles solid fuel rockets.

5. (C) Asking for confidentiality, Varotto then shared a ""serious""
issue he believed could affect CONAE's SLV program. He said that
French military equipment manufacturer Dassault had contacted
Fabricaciones Militares (a state company under Planning Minister De
Vido) to explore the possibility of refurbishing old Argentine
military solid fuel short-range (30-40 km) rockets, for subsequent
sales to the region. Officials from Fabricaciones Militares had
visited CONAE's space center in Cordoba, where the SLV is being
developed. Varotto said he later found out that the reason for the
visit was that the Ministry of Planning was considering the use of
some of CONAE's facilities and machinery for the fabrication of
solid-fuel rockets. Varotto said he immediately contacted Foreign
Minister Taiana (the titular head of Argentina's space program) to
state unequivocally that CONAE was totally opposed to any military
use of its facilities. ""This would mean the end of the Argentine
SLV program,"" he stressed, ""and someone would have to take
responsibility for this.""

6. (C) While Dassault appears in the end to have decided to
negotiate with the Brazilians rather than the Argentines, Varotto
said that Fabricaciones Militares is now considering moving forward
with its own project of manufacturing rockets for the use of the
Argentine military and for regional military sales. He said that
Planning Minister Julio De Vido is pushing this idea to completely
retool CONAE's space center to manufacture military rockets. The
situation has now escalated into a confrontation between FM Taiana
against Planning Minister DeVido and Defense Minister Nilda Garre,

Varotto said. He added that he had asked FM Taiana to make a
personal appeal to the President. ""It is an existential question
for us,"" he said, ""and that is why I am appealing to the
President."" Varotto was adamant that ""to share our civilian space
center with military fabrication means the end of our SLV program.""
He stressed that CONAE is totally opposed to having the two
projects cohabitate within the same center. Moreover, he said, the
space center is entirely focused on the development of liquid fuel
boosters and is simply not tooled for large-scale fabrication of
solid fuel rockets.

7. (C) Comment: Varotto was clearly worried about damage to his
credibility, and he insisted that his unwavering commitment to full
transparency be relayed to Washington. Argentina's space program
involves much more than the SLV project, as CONAE has for many
years pursued very productive cooperation with NASA on the design
and building of satellites (the latest one, SAC-D, to be launched
from California at the end of 2010.) Varotto does not want rumors
and a possible military use of his space center to jeopardize space
cooperation with the United States. In the end, he trusts that CFK
will maintain the long-standing civilian focus of space research
and let CONAE retain exclusive use of its space center in Cordoba.
End Comment.

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