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MH-1, the first satellite totally developed in Portugal was launched to space

AEROS-MH-1, the first satellite built and operated from Portugal for ocean observation, was launched on March 4th, 2024, from Space-X base in California, USA. MH-1 was born from the collaboration of 12 national entities, condensed into a final product coordinated by two CMU Portugal Industry affiliates: CEiiA – Engineering and Development Center, which handled the hardware components, and Thales Edisoft Portugal, in the software and programming department, with an investment of €2.8 million funded by PT2020. 

The name MH-1 honors Manuel Heitor, Portugal’s Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education between 2015-2022 and Portuguese Secretary of State of Science, Technology and Higher Education between 2005-2011. Heitor has been a longtime supporter of international partnerships, including the CMU Portugal Program, and of all its initiatives, strengthening the relationship between Carnegie Mellon and the Portuguese scientific and innovation ecosystem throughout the years.

“It was a surprise, but more than my name, we must look into the future. The reinforcement and investment in the international partnerships with American universities, which included the launch five years ago of a space strategy, have now striking results. But this is a path that started way back in 1999, with Portugal’s participation in the European Space Agency, the creation of a program for space in Ciência Viva, and the establishment of CEiia”, shared Manuel Heitor in an interview to Público.

Credits: CEiiA

The Aeros project is led by two CMU Portugal Industrial Affiliated partners, Thales Edisoft Portugal and CEiiA, and counted with the collaboration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the MIT Portugal program. The consortium includes 12 other Institutions, namely the companies SpinWorks and Dstelecom and the Universities of Minho, Porto and Algarve, Instituto Superior Técnico (Técnico), CoLab + Atlântico, the Okeanos and the Air Centre.

CEiiA is the owner of the satellite and was responsible for developing the structure and the complete integration of the satellite, including qualification tests and logistics, from its conception until its launch. The operation of MH-1 is ensured by GEOSAT, a subsidiary of the Center and Omnideia.

According to Rui Magalhães, director of the CEiiA Space unit in an interview with RTP, “one of the main challenges of the Aeros project, which in June was still a prototype, was to transform it into a flying space system. We set the goal of developing, designing, integrating, defining all logistics and monitoring the entire launch logistics, in a truly national partnership.” 

The MH-1 is equipped with a Hyperspectral camera from Spinworks and communications from Dstelecom. Thales was responsible for the software, ground station, the first checks after launch and the first cycle of operation. 

Thales – Edisoft

“We have developed a series of technologies, from payloads and software to the satellite itself, designing the entire system architecture and providing additional support. Throughout this time, we have overcome numerous obstacles, made possible only through teamwork, mutual support, and a commitment to excellence. Now, we have reached a moment like this, where we have an integrated, tested satellite ready for launch, along with all the infrastructure and operational support in place to assist the satellite in orbit.”, shared José Freitas, Aerospace & Security Director at Thales Edisoft in his interview to RTP.

Opencosmos played an important role in the logistics supporting the launch. It is also worth highlighting the importance of ANACOM in the satellite licensing process.

The Aeros project represents a step into a much broader strategy in the Space area, involving the development of the first family of high and very high-resolution satellites already in progress in Portugal. This new generation of satellites will replace the current satellites operated by Geosat (which, alongside Airbus, is one of the two operators of very high-resolution satellites in Europe) and are part of Portugal’s participation in the Atlantic Constellation.

According to Manuel Heitor’s statement in Público, it is crucial to invest future efforts in the space sector: “Portugal still invests very little in space. This satellite will last for three years and is an experimental satellite, so the important thing is to see MH-2, MH-3… MH represents for me multiple hackathons, meaning multiple challenges. Testing new challenges, new technologies. Each new scientific knowledge generated in the space sector creates more jobs. And what has been done here over the years, has created hundreds of new jobs for young people in Portugal. Space is a new science that creates jobs and, therefore, improves the quality of all.”

More about the Aeros project.