Mexican nanosatellite initiative slated to take place

The manufacturer of nanosatellites and mission integrator NanoAvionics, together with the Mexican Space Agency, plans to introduce a pilot project of nanosatellites for future space missions.

Nanosatellite project underway in Mexico. Photo: US Army
Nanosatellite project underway in Mexico. Photo: US Army

The first development planned by the project partners, in collaboration with students from the Universidad Politécnica de Atlacomulco, will be a nanosatellite for the State of Mexico, the country's most populous state, which is located in south-central Mexico.

This nanosatellite - AtlaCom-1 - is part of a pilot project to establish a nanosatellite infrastructure for future space missions designed and built by the youth of Mexico.

According to NanoAvionics, the project, which will begin in September 2020, is a testament to the importance of nanosatellite-enabled space applications, which are rapidly becoming essential to national economies.

NanoAvionics is a manufacturer of nanosatellite buses and mission integrator. The company's efforts are focused on enabling critical satellite functions and optimizing satellite launch, hardware, and operational costs, ranging from individual missions to constellations. Its core engineering team has successfully completed more than 75 satellite missions and commercial projects over the past few years.

The engineers at NanoAvionica will share their space mission expertise and assist the students and faculty at the Universidad Politécnica de Atlacomulco in developing AtlaCom-1. The company's multi-purpose nanosatellite buses are pre-configured and pre-qualified, allowing mission teams to focus on their payloads. As a result, says NanoAvionics, technology development missions can produce results faster and satellite constellations can go into commercial service much more quickly.

By Mexicanist

Nanosatellites: space technology within everyone's reach

Satellites are autonomous electromechanical devices that are designed, built and tested to perform missions of interest to societies. They are launched into space and placed at an altitude above the earth's surface in so-called satellite orbits. They pass over practically all the regions of our planet, which allows us to study the Earth, physical phenomena, space dynamics, remote sensing, etc. Many of us are familiar with satellite technologies such as communications or satellite television.

Satellites originated when the Soviet Union, in 1957, launched a first artificial satellite, Sputnik, which proved that it was feasible to put an autonomous body above the Earth to perform functions of many kinds. From there, a dynamic of scientific-technological development was generated to design, build, test and launch these artificial bodies, which gave rise to a whole industry that is now fully consolidated.

Sputnik used to be a 60-centimeter sphere, but today satellites of many types are being built. Since the early 1960s, relatively small satellites have been built and have evolved over time. By the early 1990s, satellites were already large, several meters long and weighing five or six tonnes. We are talking about large mechanisms with a lot of processing capacity for various purposes.

A tangible example of a satellite is the International Space Station, whose current dimensions are 109 meters long x 51 meters wide and a weight of 419,455 kilograms, and which rotates around the Earth, making it possible to carry out a large number of studies and space missions and to receive astronauts who for several days and even months carry out different scientific, technological and even industrial and commercial activities. 

Another example of a relatively large satellite is the Hubble Space Telescope, which has a scientific application, the study of the Universe, and which has made it possible to discover things that were previously unthinkable.

The number of satellites orbiting the Earth is enormous, generating a real problem because many of the devices that no longer work have become space junk, are drifting or are occupying orbits that are no longer being used.

Mexico has participated as a satellite user since the government launched the Morelos I and Morelos II satellites in 1985. Then, between 1985 and 1992, it launched the Solidarity satellites. At the end of the 1990s, the satellites were privatized and the company Satmex emerged, which continued to buy satellites essentially to provide communication services to the entire country. More recently, Mexico bought a fleet of new satellites for purposes of national and social interest, the Bicentennial and Morelos III.

Building satellites is expensive, only rich countries can buy large satellites. Starting in 2002, researchers at the California Polytechnic proposed going small in satellite technology. Their proposal was to manufacture minimal things, structures a few centimeters long that weigh a few grams: nanosatellites.

In 2002 and 2003 they proposed the standard for nanosatellites called CubeSats, which are cubes of 10 centimeters per side and weigh up to one kilogram. In this cube are placed all the electronics and intelligent mechanisms that allow the same functions as a large satellite, but at a minimal cost compared to the costs of the latter.

This proposal attracted the sympathy of the academic world and in many parts of the world, these small satellites began to be built, which has given way to space missions at very low cost and which can be done without the need for expensive infrastructure and components.

It is also feasible to launch these nanosatellites into space because the launch, which is another expensive aspect of this issue, is shared: in a trip into space, not just one satellite is launched but several, because packages of tens and even hundreds of satellites are assembled, which considerably reduces costs.

This is the current dynamic that is booming in the academic world and that has attracted the attention of the industry, which is now interested in designing missions with nanosatellites that can be stacked as nanosatellites of several units.

In other words, a basic unit of a CubeSat can be multiplied to form systems of five or six units, although it is difficult to have a satellite like the large ones. This field allows, with a minimum investment, to start generating satellites that can go into space more widely.

By Mexicanist