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Interview with Dr. Ivan A. Ramirez, Chilean Space Agency
November 2010, at APRSAF-17, Melbourne

The APRSAF Secretariat conducted an interview with Dr. Ivan A. Ramirez, on the occasion of APRSAF-17, in late November 2010, in Melbourne, Australia. He is the Communications Satellite Area Leader of the Chilean Space Agency and is a professor in the engineering faculty at Mayor University in Chile. Dr. Ramirez participated in the forum as a delegate from Chile.

Q: Could you please tell us about the space activities in your country?

<Ra> The space activity in Chile dates back to 1959. So, we have only 51 years of experience in space activities. In this period, we had two experimental satellites, namely, Fasat Alfa and Fasat Bravo. The third project was SSOT (Sistema satelital de Observación de la Tierra = Satellite System for Observations of Earth). The satellite was manufactured in Toulouse, France, and we are waiting for the launch that will take place next March or April, if the conditions for the launch are satisfied.

Q: Actually, SSOT is the earth observation satellite. And are you working for communication satellites?

<Ra> Yes, we are studying this solution. Since we have had many natural disasters, at the end of April 2010, our authorities had decided to launch a communications satellite study in order to offer improved communication connectivity to the country. For example, on February 27, 2010, we had a very strong earthquake with a tsunami at the same time. When we had this earthquake, all regular communication systems were down due to different problems, such as energy disruptions, lack of services in the main communication segments across the country, and lack of transportation due to the problems on roads and highways; in summary, a great part of the country had no public connections.

The first step of the communication satellite study was to conduct the research on the state-of-the-art technology, with the cooperation of several countries represented by their factories and consortiums, like Japan, led by Itochu Corporation in collaboration with the industrial consortium formed by Sky Perfect JSAT, NEC Corp, Mitsubishi Electric Corp, Toshiba Corp, Japan Radio Corp, and Mitsubishi Heavy Ind. At the same time, we had the cooperation of France, which was represented by EADS Astrium and Thales Companies, as well as that of the USA, which was represented by Rockwell Collins and ViaSat; we received presentations from Canada through MDA Corporation, and we had the cooperation of China, through the consortium formed by the China Centre for Resources Satellite Data & Application (CRESDA) and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC).

The second step was to conduct the research on the forecast demand of emergency services for the Chilean government and public organizations, in order to recommend to the Chilean government the best options and solutions in the short, medium, and long term for providing emergency communications and dealing with natural disasters.

The next action points are to present the mentioned options to the current authorities, and to wait for instructions to develop the alternative selected by the Chilean government.

Q: Were mobile phones working in the aftermath of the earthquake?

<Ra> No, these systems did not operate correctly in these circumstances, because the base stations of the mobile networks had a lot of problems, including the energy supply and the disruption of the microwave communication links. So, the implementation of the communication satellite is our objective, in order to improve emergency communications in the country and to support the community in times of crises, natural disasters, and early warnings caused by disasters. Right now, I am in charge of the satellite communication solution study for this objective. We will recommend some alternatives in order to take the solution for the country. And, the final decision will be made by the involved ministers. In my opinion, in the short term, Chile needs to improve the Emergency Communications Network and Management System to Natural Disasters; for instance, in the short term, Chile could rent satellite capacity to some satellite operator with coverage across the country. In the medium and long term, we should solve and implement a communication network system capable of interoperating with other government systems for instances of early warnings.

Q: Such a network might be a backbone of your country.

<Ra> Yes, it could be. The communications network can integrate the rest of the emergency communication network, currently operating in the country in the case of natural disasters, and serve as a backup for the domestic communications, complementing the domestic fiber optics network. The satellite communication solution as an emergency system is essential mainly for achieving connectivity in remote areas, in order to reduce the digital divide, to have a wide coverage and availability of the network, to protect national sovereignty, etc.

Q: Do you have any other project?

<Ra> Yes, we have. For instance, we are cooperating in the microsatellite feasibility project with Chile University; we are collaborating with the rest of the universities around Chile, to participate in the QOS project (Quantum Optical System). It is a satellite tracking system using a compact laser-optical system. We also have earth observation projects such as assessment and monitoring applications oriented to natural resources or water reservation areas. And, we are conducting a study with the cooperation of another university to install a base station in the north of Chile for simulating life on Mars. Finally, with the Magallanes University located at southern Chile, in Punta Arenas city, we are participating in a remote sensing project, oriented to the recovery of an important number of earth images by satellite, which are to be used in scientific studies in Chile or worldwide. Of course, this project is open for the participation of any research center around the world that is interested in these activities.

Q: That sounds great. And did you find any opportunity for the future of your project at APRSAF?

<Ra> Yes, I did. This conference is very interesting for developing countries. We have the same projects and problems around the world. When these technical groups have some idea or some solution, it is possible to apply it in other countries like Chile. So, I think it is a good opportunity to find solutions to the current problems of humanity and to cooperate with countries with less infrastructure and technical knowledge.

<Secretariat> Thank you very much.

----- Dr. Ramirez gave the following comment after this interview. -----

<Ra> Thank you for the interest of APRSAF-17 in to know the Chilean activities on the space matters. I would like to give many thanks to all the countries, international companies, and space agencies, especially JAXA of Japan for this invitation to show our job in areas of the satellite technology in order to collaborate with APRSAF-17, and I would like acknowledge the international help after the last earthquake in February 2010 in order to offer the Chilean population a better quality of life.

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