The New York Times (fairly strongly worded) article From a Space Station in Argentina, China Expands Its Reach in Latin America describes a "space station" or base equipped with (among other things) a dish antenna to receive signals from space. The article is long, and well worth a read. Photography is beautiful as well.

Question: What are the stated or otherwise likely future uses for this space station beyond servicing China's upcoming Chang'e 4 mission and Queqiao satellite on it's way to the Moon?

Chinese "space station" in Argentina

above: "The Chinese space station, including a 16-story-tall parabolic antenna, in a remote area of Argentina’s Patagonia region.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times" Cropped, from here.

Chinese "space station" in Argentina

above: "The antennae is the centerpiece of a $50 million station built by the Chinese military.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times" Cropped, from here.

QUINTUCO, Argentina — The giant antenna rises from the desert floor like an apparition, a gleaming metal tower jutting 16 stories above an endless wind-whipped stretch of Patagonia.

The 450-ton device, with its hulking dish embracing the open skies, is the centerpiece of a $50 million satellite and space mission control station built by the Chinese military.

The isolated base is one of the most striking symbols of Beijing’s long push to transform Latin America and shape its future for generations to come — often in ways that directly undermine the United States’ political, economic and strategic power in the region.

The station began operating in March, playing a pivotal role in China’s audacious expedition to the far side of the moon — an endeavor that Argentine officials say they are elated to support.

About the use of the term "space station" (discussed here, here is the usage frequency of various expressions in the article for occurances of "station" along with at least one extra modifying or qualifying term:

 n             expression
---      ---------------------------
 4                     space station
 3             Chinese space station
 1             China’s space station 
 1     space mission control station
 1     space         control station
 1        Chinese monitoring station
 1               $50 million station 

12                             Total
  • $\begingroup$ The article seems to use the term “space control station”, and I think most people take “space station” to mean something in orbit. Is it necessary to propagate the poor choices of the headline and caption editor? $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Jul 28 '18 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove No, not really. Only 1 out of 12 occurrences of "station" with at least one modifier (within the NY Times article, figure, and captions) is "space control station". However, 8 out of 12 contain "space station". I've added complete statistics for you. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 28 '18 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove You can try to set them straight on this though. The address I know about is nytnews@nytimes.com and you will get a prompt and lengthy reply that begins with "THANK YOU for writing The New York Times newsroom. We are grateful to readers who take the time to help us report thoroughly and accurately. Your message will reach the appropriate editor or reporter promptly." followed by... so far, nothing in my case, re my question to them about Why would Cassini need to reach 64 degrees inclination before “threading the needle”? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 28 '18 at 16:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note: this is at least China's 7th or 8th overseas space tracking station, and not even the first in the Americas. As far as I'm aware, China has/had stations in: Kiribati (1997, now closed), Namibia (2001), Kenya (unsure when), Chile (2008), Pakistan (2010), Australia (2011). Only then comes Argentina (2018), followed by Sweden (2018). $\endgroup$ – Flux Jan 12 '20 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh At the moment, any definite answer would be highly speculative. I remember reading about similar concerns for the station in Kiribati (1997), Australia (2011), and Sweden (2018). IMO, the concerns are fuelled by the real/perceived lack of transparency on China's part, and amplified by international politics. Notice how the alarm bells get louder when it is perceived to intrude into another's "zone of influence" (Pacific, Americas, Europe). $\endgroup$ – Flux Jan 12 '20 at 5:54

Question: What are the stated or otherwise likely future uses for this space station beyond servicing China's upcoming Chang'e 4 mission and Queqiao satellite on it's way to the Moon?

The article "China Builds Space-Monitoring Base in the Americas" (The Diplomat, May 24, 2016) explains many things and has really great photos of China's military base in Bajada del Agrio, Patagonia, Argentina:

  • "A space tracking, telemetry and command facility operated by a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army is nearing completion at a site in Patagonia, Argentina.

  • Since its inception, the Chinese base in a remote sector of Patagonia has been controversial, with several legislators and local officials protesting publicly that Argentina has granted sovereign rights over part of its territory to China, and that the facility, entirely controlled and staffed by a unit of China’s military, could be used for military as well as civilian purposes.

  • Situated in the same longitudinal sector as the U.S. Eastern seaboard, and the same distance as Washington, D.C. from equatorially positioned geostationary satellites servicing the Eastern U.S., the base’s location would potentially be advantageous for non-civilian missions by this type of facility.

  • Chinese authorities have stated that the ground station is solely to support deep space exploration and a lunar mission to take place as early as 2017, and that the base has “no possible military use.”

  • A diagram previously posted at the construction site showed the 35-meter parabolic antenna in a fully horizontal orientation, rather than the vertical position seen in the latest satellite imagery of the facility – the position most suitable for “deep space” purposes.

  • The Chinese government has other international, but more limited, ground stations to support its manned space program – in Namibia, Pakistan and Kenya; and it currently has at least five Yuanwang-class space tracking ships deployed. A ground station in Argentina could be viewed as simply part of the growing footprint of an economically powerful nation that has peaceful intentions for space exploration, for which it should be given the same leeway other nations receive. However, the intrinsic dual-use potential of large steerable antennas, and China’s history of digital theft as well as its testing of destructive anti-satellite technologies suggest Argentina’s protesters have reason to question the real use of the Patagonia base.".

I don't want to quote too much of the article so I will leave it there, with the viewpoints of all sides presented. I have photo that is not from the article (which has much better photos):

Bajada del Agrio, Patagonia, Argentina Click to zoom

Close-ups from Google Maps:

Close-up 1

Close-up 2

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My goodness, thank you for the lengthy answer! I've never seen The Diplomat before, thanks for the reference! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 28 '18 at 16:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Many articles take a similar viewpoint on the nature of the site, that article seems to have the best photos. ;) $\endgroup$ – Rob Jul 28 '18 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh - Tough to get photos like that, that's well within the security perimeter. Not particularly recent though. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jan 5 '19 at 2:47

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