The Morelos I satellite was launched to boost Mexico’s telecom capabilities in 1982 and a Mexican reached space in 1985 when Rodolfo Neri Vela took part in a NASA space mission. Since then, Mexico has developed a series of satellites for scientific use and continued engaging in international collaboration with NASA, ESA and other space agencies through the Mexican Space Agency (AEM).
Last week, this agency took part in a Symposium organized by UNOOSA where a Mexico-made nanosatellite called AzTechSAT-1 was recognized as a model for Latin American countries. This satellite was created by students of UPAEP with the support of both AEM and NASA and will be launched in 2019 from the International Space Station, according to Carlos Duarte of AEM.
In this edition of the Interview of the Week, MAAR presents an excerpt from its exclusive interview with Francisco Mendieta, Director General of AEM, that was originally published in Mexico Aviation & Aerospace Review 2018. To learn more about the opportunities the space industry can offer Mexico and to find out what advantages small satellites offer, get your copy of MAAR 2018 or check out the digital version of the book.
Q: How does the government support the space industry to boost economic development?
A: The sector receives constant support from the federal government. The Mexsat system provides support to telecommunications across Mexico and its seas, the south of the US and part of Central America. It consists of two satellites, which are Bicentenario, for fixed service, and Morelos III, for mobile service. In 2017, a bid for a third Mexsat satellite will take place under the direction of the Deputy Minister of Communications. The new satellite will address the growing demand for good quality, rapid telecommunications at a reasonable cost, social networks and uploading and downloading data.
The emergence of Big Data has increased the requirements for communication and information processing, leading countries to require better communication systems. Industry 4.0 has connected most equipment in manufacturing plants wirelessly, sometimes through Wi-Fi, Wimax or Bluetooth for short distances. Satellites can be a good solution for countries that are developing land infrastructure but need an integral, short-term solution that guarantees access to broadband, and which can be deployed quickly with low risk.
Emerging economies like Mexico invest in satellites for fast, economical and reliable infrastructure and telecommunications support. Most space projects have no crew and are instead used to relay information. Satellites and antennae technology have a significant number of applications, including television transmissions that track disaster areas to measure the effects of global warming. These technologies also communicate with remote areas. While this can be done with fiber optic cables, they would take years to be installed, are prohibitively expensive and operations are complex. A satellite can provide immediate access. In areas with other communication alternatives, such as fiber optics, satellites act as support and backup.
Q: To what extent will the Mexsat satellite incorporate Mexican manufacturing?
A: The Mexican satellite industry has evolved. We expect larger participation for the newest bid from local technicians, operators and companies, both for space vehicles and ground operations. The AEM is surveying companies with capabilities in mechanics, materials, software and orbital studies for the space sector. The tender for the satellite will include Mexican companies and professionals from the beginning. The Mexsat satellite’s complexity means it will take at least three years to manufacture. After it is built, the satellite will enter a one-year commissioning period, during which it is placed in orbit to test all its systems. After being cleared for orbit the satellite will begin normal operations.
Q: What are the objectives for Mexico’s space industry and how does the AEM support those?
A: The aerospace sector brought FDI into Mexico to create a strong manufacturing base. Gradually, this investment moved toward the generation of engineering and R&D operations. A similar situation is occurring in the space industry as the country now aims to design and build its own satellites instead of just buying and operating them. The long-term objective is to incorporate Mexican technology, professionals and manufacturers into every Mexican satellite. The Mexsat program will also permit faster access to the technology of small satellites, as thousands are required every year so there is significant interest from major players.
The AEM maintains close communication with major aerospace and technology clusters, including Queretaro, Chihuahua, Sonora, Baja California, Nuevo Leon and Jalisco, all of which showed significant interest in developing satellite technology. To promote the sector, we need to develop alliances with research centers, the industry and the government. There used to many reservations about entering the sector and it was believed that Mexico would produce and sell at most two satellites a year. But now, demand is in the thousands of units, creating a backlog nearly as big as that for commercial aircraft. Mexico is already strong both in aeronautics and information technology, and satellites rely on both.
Q: What are the AEM’s main priorities for the space sector’s development?
A: Globally, the space industry represents between US$400 billion and US$500 billion but it is an extremely broad industry, so we adjusted our goals to address the country’s primary needs. The National Development Plan for the space sector focuses on three main areas: natural disaster management, telecommunications and GPS. Further on, the country could develop other areas such as solar cells as demand grows.
Our focus remains on initiatives to develop human capital through local universities and alliances with international agencies. For instance, we have programs with NASA and Japan’s government to train Mexican scientists and develop technology in Mexico. Our close relationship with foreign space agencies, including NASA and ESA, has led companies from all over the world to see Mexico as an entry point to large markets both in the US and Latin America.
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