Cheaper and credible launches and India’s overall expertise is driving South American countries towards the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) for launching their satellites. For launching its first homemade palm-sized satellite, the University of Chile got a ride onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C38 rocket recently. The faculty of the university is in talks with professors at IIT-Madras for doing joint missions.
Confirming the launch, Indian ambassador to Chile Anita Nayar told FE: “One launch, of SUCHAI, the nano-satellite of the University of Chile, was successfully accomplished by ISRO at the end of June 2017. The SUCHAI project is a standardised satellite of Cubesat type of 1 litre of volume and 1 kg of weight. It is the first satellite built in Chile by students at the university.”
“This is an important milestone for the University of Chile space programme, which currently includes the construction of other two (3 litres each) nano-satellites,” Nayar added.
The PSLV C38 rocket is an expendable launch system developed and operated by ISRO. In June this year, it carried 31 satellites — 29 of them belonging to other countries, including Chile.
Talking to FE, Marcos Diaz of the university’s electric engineering department, which built the satellite, said, “Chile does not have a space programme, hence no space agency. The Chilean air force has some resources to buy a satellite — mostly for earth-observation purposes. However, they do not participate either in the design or the construction. When the Chilean air force wants a satellite, they usually get it custom built. The government of Chile is not sure if there is any value in having our own space programme.”
The University of Chile had initially approached Holland-based Innovative Solutions In Space to help with the launch of their satellite on the ‘Falcon’ rocket of SpaceX, which is owned by billionaire Elon Musk. However, after waiting for two years, ISRO was approached.
Responding to a question on how the university got into making satellites, Diaz said, “In the absence of any civilian opportunities for developing satellites, we have started our own space programme to show that we can do our research with low resources and in particular we are focusing on nano-satellite technology, to develop our skills in the subject, do research and take advantages of our geographic position.”
“We are trying to get support for the launch of two 3U Cubesats under construction expected to be ready by 2018. Once the funding comes, we hope to get a ride on the PSLV in 2019 for a launch,” said Diaz.
Since the university is relying on scientific grants for the development of satellites, “Working with the faculty of IIT Madras would mean constellations of similar nano-satellites. In this way we can enlarge our constellation collaborating with each other, then improving our science outcomes and reducing the costs of our projects,” he added.
Adding, “Our geographical distances also can be of great advantage. Thus, our projects could take advantage of ground stations in India and Chile.” These satellites are for space research and scientific in nature.