So, this is pretty damn cool (to me at least).
A couple weeks ago, Guatemala launched its first satellite, Quetzal-1, from the International Space Station (ISS). The satellite was designed by a Guatemalan university with the purpose of monitoring the country’s inland water systems to determine pollution levels.
Apparently, this record-breaking project is part of the “KiboCUBE” program, which was launched in 2017 by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to help poorer countries develop the capabilities of space exploration. Kibo is the Japanese module of the ISS that can launch “CubeSats”, tiny but powerful satellites whose cost-effectiveness make the go-to choice for poorer nations or private institutions.
The little-known UNOOSA, which was established after the launch of Sputnik in 1957, works to promote international collaboration for the peaceful exploration of space. Part of its mission is to give poorer nations access to the benefits of space science and technology. Not only is this a vital goal in the 21st century, but it allows countries to develop their educational and scientific capabilities, which brings benefits to society as a whole.
In the process, UNOOSA’s projects also develop international ties and gender equality. Sexism is a major issue in Guatemala, but women played an integral role in engineering the country’s first satellite—a powerful message indeed! Quetzal-1 was also built and deployed with the help of the UK Space Agency, the University of Colorado, the University of Chile, TEC Costa Rica, and the University of Würzburg in Germany, among others. The ISS is a joint effort between five major space agencies: Those of the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, and Europe (which in turn has 11 European participants).
“We hope that the experience and knowledge obtained through the development and technical demonstration of Quetzal-1 will lead to the further development of remote sensing technology in Guatemala in the future,” said JAXA Director General of Human Spaceflight, Hiroshi Sasaki.
UNOOSA recently teamed up with an American private space agency, the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), to help developing countries launch even bigger payloads by next year. The more we pool the world’s resources and know-how, the quicker our advancements in space as a species. Along the way, it’s super cool to see folks from unlikely or beleaguered places realize their potential.