In the midst of the zero country satellite policy, the University of Chile successfully completed its first space mission


After 457 days of operation, the SUCHAI 1 nanosatellite, the first built in the country and developed by students and academics of the Faculty of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (FCFM) of the U. of Chile, completed its mission and demonstrated the feasibility of performing space science at low cost and allow to use the results of their experiments in the development of new SUCHAI II and III nanosatellite.

The 1,000 cm3 (or 10cm x 10cm x 10cm) device sent data from Earth's orbit between June 2017 and October 2018, and while today it continues to orbit the planet, researchers at the Space Exploration and Planetary Laboratory (LEEP) the FCFM , has already collected enough data to analyze this first experiment.

SUCHAI 1 has become one of the few nanosatellites to remain in space for more than a year, a feat that less than 5% of these instruments have achieved. In that period, it covered about 338,791,514 kilometers and gave 7,838 laps around the Earth.

The University of Chile presented a Space Program last November, with no progress at the national level.

Celebration of the launch of the satellite, in June 2017, at the FCFM facilities of the U. of Chile.

Chile to the must

The fact is remarkable, since at the national level, Chile is debited in satellite matters. The five-year warranty for the device launched in 2011 as a country – FASat-Charlie – expired in December 2016 and its useful life ended last year. In addition, not only has no substitute in sight, but also can stop working at any time, which the country would be "blind."

"What Chile lacks is the political determination to cross space," said Marcos Díaz, SUCHAI-1 project coordinator, The display, last July. "To say we want to be in space, which is good for us, given that our location is privileged, as astronomy shows, as with the sea or Antarctica, we can not study or analyze it," he added.

Chile does not have an entity of the type National Space Agency and the subject of the area in our country has been confronted with the creation of Presidential Advisory Commissions since 1980, Hector Gutiérrez, one of the few civilian experts in the subject, warned in this media, that worked in the Fasat satellites.

The last time the Council of Space Ministers met, responsible for the theme, was in November 2017 to prepare an activity report for the period 2014-2017. They also analyzed the "National Policy of Space 2014-2020".

"Chile has been stepping down in its timid leadership in the use of space technology in the South American region since 2001 until today, when it ranked third after Brazil and Argentina, falling to sixth place after Venezuela, Bolivia. and Peru, taking into account the investment in space and space infrastructure and also in the decision to implement a Space Agency by law, "warned Gutiérrez.


Diaz, leader of the SUCHAI 1 | project, highlighted the achievements of the device on this occasion.

"The main learning we have achieved was to demonstrate that we can develop technology for studies in and out of space in Chile and that this type of technology is viable with the budgets we have in the country and therefore we can accelerate the processes of space innovation" , he said.

"With sensors and a very low-cost platform, we have been able to reproduce experiments of high scientific relevance, and while the latter may guess, many do not take the risk of experimenting with inexpensive instruments or systems that will go into space. multipoint – with an unprecedented number of sensors – of the space environment, "he added.

In this mission, SUCHAI 1 carried out mainly studies of space physics, as well as technical tests with structures, electronic components, materials and flight software.

Image taken by satellite.


Among their achievements it has been demonstrated that with a nanosatellite it is possible to obtain data similar to those obtained with satellites of greater reach and sophistication that study the "South Atlantic Anomaly".

In this region of the planet the earth's magnetic field is weaker and therefore the flow of high energy particles sent from the Sun reaches lower heights or orbits, which may affect the functioning of the satellites in that area.

The anomaly covers a very large area of ​​South America and the Atlantic, reaching the coast of South Africa. The current maximum is in the vicinity of Uruguay and Argentina.

"Most satellites in space physics use the anomaly to prove their sensors operate correctly. Our sensor has detected the anomaly, which indicates that our technology is functional and we can reuse it with improvements in future missions to monitor it under a multipoint concept, "says the scholar.

He added that monitoring the anomaly is important because the radiation belts (particle layers retained in our magnetic field) change their shape and geometry depending on the dynamics of the magnetic field and the activity of the Sun. The location where maximum particle detection has changed and in 50 years is projected to arrive in Chile, estimates.

Less hostile orbit

The presence of SUCHAI 1 in space has made it possible to determine that the environment in the orbit of the Earth, 505 kilometers in altitude, is not as hostile as the researchers supposed.

"Before we got the information we had, the temperatures were very extreme in space, but we saw that within the satellite the maximum reached 20 degrees Celsius and the lows at about 7 degrees. Although the vacuum would impose heavy complications on dissipate the heat that can generate a component, "he says.

Information on thermal behavior is fundamental for the design of new satellites and is one of the variables that must be taken into account for redesigning experiments, such as unbalanced electronics, which in this case was designed for a more hostile environment. .

Other results

Among other results, advances were made in several algorithms to study the health status of the battery in real time, which would allow to predict and optimize the cycles of operation and production of satellites.

The flight software has also been tested, essential to ensure the system works well as a whole.

A poor quality camera was evaluated in pixels as part of the satellite orientation determination system, plus the use of a gyroscope sensor. The use of this camera, as well as orientation algorithms, are the basis of more sophisticated guidance systems that will be implemented in the following missions.

The new systems will be based on photographs of the star position (startracker). Currently, the team of researchers behind SUCHAI 1 continues to work to obtain the highest number of results with data collected from each experiment to apply them in the upcoming SUCAI II and III, and possibly in new nano-satellites if the proposed program Which led the University of Chile and is supported by the Senate Committee for the Challenges of Science, Technology and Innovation.

"We have been able to contribute to space science at a reasonable cost to the country, showing that these advances are not only of interest to Chile, but also to the region and to the world," Diaz concludes.

Next frontier: Space Program for Chile

This university project, which grew with Conicyt's competitive funds and was carried out in partnership with other universities, aroused the interest of the Senate Future Challenges Committee.

The commission asked the FCFM to submit a Space Program to Chile in mid-2018, which was followed by 12 national universities and the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (CCHEN).

On December 27, Senator Guido Girardi gave President Sebastián Piñera the proposal for a space and satellite policy for Chile, which proposes the investment to be developed.

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