Ecuador agency develops and exports space technology

Ecuador's space agency has developed its own technology for projects such as the construction of the only laboratory in the region that simulates zero gravity in addition to placing two satellites in orbit.

In addition, it exports parts for satellites and has found other commercial applications such as weather and radiation monitoring.

"We have exported parts for satellites since 2011," Cmdr. Ronnie Nader, the space operations division director of the Space Agency of Ecuador, said. In that year the agency supplied titanium structures made in Ecuador to be used in a satellite of the United Kingdom named Ukube-1.

Since then, the agency has exported other specialized equipment such as batteries, all with locally developed technology. "The idea is to do everything ourselves," Nader said.

The agency also operates a small fleet of drones that has a longer flight range than similar ones in developed nations thanks to the use of batteries built for satellites in these drones. Since 2008, the agency has operated the only airplane that simulates space gravity in Latin America.

"We have a network of meteorology stations and also monitor ultraviolet radiation," Nader said.

Running a space agency in a developing region can be difficult. 

"For example, we had to build our printed circuit boards for our satellite, but in a developed country that would have been done though outsourcing with a local company," he said.

The need to develop its own technology for things such as the zero-gravity simulator is in part due to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) treaty that prevents or can make it very difficult to import sophisticated equipment, he said.

"(For the satellites) we only bought abroad the solar cells and a camera, which we had to disassemble and reassemble it so it would be space grade but we did all the rest," he said.

The agency has so far put in orbit two satellites, he said. The first came from China and the second from Russia. 

In May 2013, one month after the launching of the first one, the signal was lost due to a close encounter with another space object that caused it to lose altitude. In January 2014, the signal was recovered through the second satellite, said Nader, an engineer from the Catholic University of Guayaquil.

Ecuador contributed funds for the satellites but other expenses were financed through the sale of technology and consulting services, he added.

"If we value the assets, technology and patents we are now above $150 million including the two satellites in orbit," he said. 

The agency's 15-member team consists mostly of engineers with diverse specializations.

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Catholic University of Guayaquil

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