Morelos 1, the first Mexican satellite

On June 17, 1985, Mexico put its first artificial satellite, Morelos 1, the first Mexican satellite, into a geostationary orbit, and the country entered the satellite era. Its trip into outer space was truly an odyssey, with the launch taking place aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery, from the Kennedy Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and just a few months later, Morelos 2 was sent up. The reason for the second launching is that there was so much expectation regarding the satellite system and the investment had been so big that the decision was made to prevent any possible flaws by having a backup.

The Morelos satellites are a series of Mexican communications satellites (which are especially beneficial to countries having road territorial expenses of water or land over which a land based system of telecommunications lines would be extremely expensive to maintain). The first two operated between 1985 and 1998 and provided telephony, data, and television services over the territory of the Mexican Republic and adjacent areas. Morelos 1 provided telephony, data and television services for nine years. Today, though, it is a space debris that is lost in outer space.

Morelos 1, the first Mexican satellite

In November 1982, Mexico, in a major step toward unifying the rural and urban areas of the nation, ordered its first domestic communications satellite system from Hughes Aircraft Company. The two Morelos satellites, originally to be called Illhuica, are versions of the Hughes HS-376 and were launched on the American Space Shuttle on June 17, and November 27, 1985.

Mexico, with Morelos 1,the first Mexican satellite, was the first customer to use the HS-376 as a hybrid satellite operating in two frequency bands simultaneously. It also was the first Latin American country where Hughes Space and Communications Company is the prime contractor on a satellite project. In addition to the satellites, the contract called for Hughes to manufacture and install a tracking, telemetry, and command station to operate the Morelos system. The station is located about sixteen kilometres of Mexico City in Iztapalapa. Years later, another base was opened in the northern city of Hermosillo, Sonora.

In the launch position with its telescoping solar panels retracted and its main antenna reflector folded down, Morelos measures almost three metres high. On orbit with the panels extended and the antenna erected, the satellite is almost seven metres high. Morelos has a diameter of two metres and fifteen centimetres, and weighed six hundred and forty-five kilograms at the beginning of life on orbit. Four thrusters using hydrazine propellant provided orbit and attitude control during the satellite’s 9-year planned mission life. The two solar panels, using K-7 solar cells, generated slightly more than nine hundred and fifty Watts of electrical power at beginning of life. Two nickel-cadmium batteries power the spacecraft during eclipse operations when it passes through the Earth’s shadow.

Each satellite used a McDonnell Douglas payload assist module (PAM-D) to propel it into an elliptical transfer orbit after being released from the American Space Shuttle. Sitting in its special cradle, the satellite used only one-seventh of the American Space Shuttle’s cargo bay capacity. The American Space Shuttle carried the satellite to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The cradle’s protective sunshield was opened, and a spin table at the base of the cradle spun the satellite to provide gyroscopic stability. Four springs pushed the satellite into outer space; forty-five minutes later, an onboard sequencer fired the PAM. An apogee kick motor was fired by command and placed the satellite into a circular synchronous orbit. When the satellite was near its operating position, the reflector antenna and the electronics shelf were despun with respect to Earth and achieved close pointing accuracy using a beacon tracking system.

In a spin stabilized satellite, the antenna or other parts will only point towards their target once every rotation of the satellite; if the antenna must be pointing towards its target at all times, it could be mounted on a platform which is despun or counter-rotated (equipment on a despun platform will point stably in the same direction at all times, regardless of the spinning satellite).

The remainder of the bus and solar panels continued to spin for stability. The satellite drifted into final orbit and was placed in operating position through the use of the onboard thrusters. The Morelos satellites are positioned at 113.5 degrees West longitude and 116.8 degrees West longitude.

Morelos 2 and 3

Morelos 2 was launched in November 1985 and remained in service until July 1998. Built by the Hughes Aircraft Corporation for the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transportation, it was launched by the American Space Shuttle Atlantis on November 27, 1985; the mission included Mexican-born astronaut Rodolfo Neri Vela as a payload specialist in its crew.

The Mexican Satellite System, also known as MEXSAT, is a network of three satellites bought by the Mexican government’s Ministry of Communications and Transportation. The three satellites are named Mexsat-1, Mexsat-2, and Mexsat-3. Subsequently, they have also been named Centenario, Morelos 3, and Bicentenario respectively. Morelos 3 was launched on October 2, 2015 on Atlas V (an expendable launch system in the Atlas rocket family) and the 100th launch by the United Launch Alliance.

Rodolfo Neri Vela

Rodolfo Neri Vela, born on February 19, 1952, is a Mexican scientist and astronaut who flew aboard a NASA Space Shuttle mission in the year 1985. He is the first Mexican, and the second Latin American to have travelled to outer space.

Rodolfo Neri Vela became the first Mexican in outer space when he flew on the American Space Shuttle Atlantis as a payload specialist on the STS-61-B crew; NASA’s 23rd Space Shuttle mission, and its second using Space Shuttle Atlantis. He launched into outer space on November 26, 1985, and returned to Earth on December 3, 1985, after having spent seven days in outer space. During the mission, Neri Vela and his fellow crew members deployed three communications satellites, one of which was the Mexican satellite Morelos 2. Neri Vela also performed multiple scientific experiments for the Mexican government.

Neri Vela was later employed by the European Space Agency (ESA) in The Netherlands, where he worked on planning a section of the International Space Station (ISS). He has also published a number of books on outer space.