The knowledge of the skies has a long tradition throughout Mexico’s history. From preHispanic times to the XX Century dawns, observatories were created and helped to learn the movements and cycles of cosmic objects. By the middle of the XX century, space projects arise in Mexico, which brought Mexico into the design of sounding rocket launchers and communication systems, which has contributed with a new focus to our vision of the universe, since we do not only want to observe it but also to reach it and use it.
The history of Mexican space development is intertwined just like in other countries, with the development of aeronautics. This is how work in aviation brought advances in 1949 forming a group of Mexican technicians that started studies on rocketry. Our country made its first step on space activities with the launching of high atmospheric research sounding rockets in 1957, and later in 1960, with the creation and operation of the Guaymas, Sonora, tracking station.
With the creation of the National Commission for Outer Space (CONEE) in 1962, important work in rocketry and telecommunications was made, which allowed the creation of specialized teams and physical infrastructure to enter the activities that were being developed in the world at that time. This activity was interrupted with the disintegration of CONEE 1977. A second national effort in the space arena was the creation of the Mexican Institute of Communications (IMC) 1987, which coordinated the design and operation of communication satellites, which ran the same fate and was dissolved in 1996.
Since then to this date, there have been specific aerospace developments, in collaborations between higher education institutions such as UNAM, IPN, CONACyT centers, and the University of the Mexican Army and Air Force (UDEFA), with some international groups. On the other hand the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) have promoted activity on telecommunications, with the participation of some private companies. These efforts, backed by public and private institutions along with many individuals, allowed that today, with the promulgation of the law that creates the Mexican Space Agency on July 30th, 2010, brings forward the dream of many generations of Mexicans who have made contributions to the national aerospace development.
On the other hand, the rest of the world has moved quickly and the last decades are marked with a fast increase in space activities in all areas, from spectacular advances in scientific research to the creation of multiple industrial consortia of high efficiency and great competitivity. These advances, added to the development of other areas of knowledge such as information and communication technologies, have evolved into what is now called the society and economy of knowledge.
If something differentiates what is happening in this field in recent years, is the increasing participation of the private sector, not only as a service and product provider, but also as a dynamic actor in space navigation itself, from transport of individuals as well as placement of communication and observation nodes. Advances in space science and technology have become essential in everyday life and are present in practically all areas of human activities, providing a great number of benefits. In fact, the common person is always unaware of the use of space systems.
To date, nearly 6,500 satellites have been launched around the world, dedicated to a wide variety of specific tasks and their services extend beyond communications. They run from Earth observation, obtaining meteorological and images data that helps to prevent disasters and study climatic change, to navigation systems dedicated to location and security in transportation.
In the case of telecommunication satellites, besides telephony connections and radio and television signal broadcast, they offer important support to telemedicine and distance education, helping to reduce the digital divide and linking geographically isolated users, improving the quality of life of inhabitants in less communicated regions. We can state that all these systems benefit the collectivity, help to maintain the security of society in a wider sense and allow to increase the economic social cultural level for all countries. This situation has been so fast to change the most of the old systems have been turned off and still remain in orbit. Some of these old systems have become a real problem, known generically as “space junk or debris”.
In the field of scientific research, astronomical satellites have allowed to learn details in the Sun-Earth interaction, evolution of the stars and galaxies as well as the origin of life and universe itself. Earth observation satellites offer a unique window to study the continents, the atmosphere, the oceans and global warming. Its results go beyond basic research and have a great social impact, since they gather essential data for natural resource management, environment protection, climatic change monitoring, public health prevention and management, early warning on meteorological phenomena, quick response to emergencies and disaster follow-up programs.
This have an impact on the economics and the industrial due that the generation of new and more advanced technologies are converted on a growing number of products with added value and many satisfiers that brings and increase on our daily quality of life. Additionally, goods and services that support the space industry have also benefited from the economic flow and generated new business with steady progress.
In the case of Mexico, where we are starting the construction of projects, human capital and infrastructure for space exploration, we must define scientific niches and industrial applications that are relevant to the country. In this regard, the participation of Mexican researchers on projects with the leading nations has allowed us to access the benefits of some of these niches and applications, which encourages our conviction of promoting research and development lines of space that are necessary for our society. The main actors, which have supported these areas in an isolated form, now have a space policy that coordinates and links available national capacities in science, technology and industry, to develop their own initiatives on space science and technology.
The recent growth of the aerospace industry in the country, along with the development attained by the productive sectors such as electronics, information technology and communications, and the large number of students in science and technology allow us to affirm that exist a technological base and human capital from which will be possible to develop national activities in this area. As in the rest of the world and especially in countries with the same economic level, local industry should be a driving force and also a direct beneficiary of aerospace development. To achieve this, it is essential that their skills are articulated with other national stakeholders, with the coordination and synergy will be easier to achieve success.
In the academic sector, Mexican space sciences have been an important tradition, with institutions and professionals of renowned national and international, the activities in astronomy, radio astronomy, astrophysics, and geophysics have shown a rapid growth in both theoretical and experimental aspects.
These programs have had a major contribution in training human resources that are now the human capital in space technology, in academia, government and the private sector. Recently the Mexican government has made a significant investment in a new satellite system named MexSat, which is expect to provide a significant technology transfer and strategic alliances in space technology development in Mexico.
Finally, the law that creates the Mexican Space Agency is a very important precedent in the scientific and technological history of the country; due that its creation were involved scientists, academics and Mexican engineers, specialists on space related fields. The Agency shall promote the development and use of space science and technology to contribute to the attention of social needs, also to exploit opportunities in the aerospace industry and to generate scientific knowledge and human capital; the AEM shall be viewed also as a partner and coordinator of the different actors of the space sector, promote awareness and access to space to improve national security, safety, sustainability and competitiveness of Mexico, while contributing to greater autonomy and national sovereignty.
In order to implement the National Space Policy, the National Space Program will be divided into five strategic areas:
- Human capital formation in the space field.
- Scientific research and technological development on space.
- Industrial development, trade and competitiveness in the space sector.
- International affairs and security regulations in space.
- Financing, organization and information technologies in space.