Paraguay deployed its first satellite from the International Space Station (ISS) on March 14, 2021. The satellite, Guaranisat-1, will use remote sensing and imagery to track the triatomine parasite’s spread. The bug carries the germ that causes Chagas disease. Chagas disease is widespread in South American, Mexico, and Central America. The satellite is one of the many satellites deployed under the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite project (BIRDS). Under the support of Japan administration and the Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech), countries such as Ghana, Mongolia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and now Paraguay develop and send their satellites to space under the BIRDS project.
“Our country’s first satellite marks a historic moment. It is the first step in a long path to bring the benefits of space to Paraguay in areas like disaster risk reduction, agriculture, natural resources management, land management, and climate,” said Alejandro Roman, Paraguayan Space Agency (AEP) project manager for the ‘Paraguay to Space’ project. The BIRDS-4 satellites, which Guaranisat-1 is a component, were launched to help collect data from space through ground stations in hard access places. For instance, scientists in Paraguay installed sensors in the Guaranisat-1 to detect the tiny vector that transmits Chagas disease.
The sensors will gather information and send it to a central point in the satellite, transmitting the data to the ground station. The ground station will then download this information and craft a map of the disease risk. Scientists can use these sketches to develop mitigation measures to curb the spread of the disease. Due to rural to urban migration, Chagas disease has become widespread in most Latin American countries. Approximately eight million people are infected by the condition, which can cause death if left untreated.
Countries with an underdeveloped space sector can deploy satellites into space courtesy of the BIRDS program. “Any emerging nation can afford the cost of the program,” noted George Maeda, assistant professor at Kyutech in charge of international interactions. Satellite design and development gives engineering students working on the BIRDS projects a chance to learn and take the knowledge with them to teach their fellow course mates. They travel to Japan, learn the whole process and return home with the knowledge. The process includes mission planning, hardware design, and testing, launching, and in-orbit operation.
The students first make a lot of mistakes but are guided until they perfect the art. Projects are completed within two years, the time it takes to finish a Master’s degree in Kyutech. Two postgraduate students from Paraguay designed Guaranisat-1, Aldofo Jara, doing a Ph.D., and AnibalG Mendoza working on a master’s in electrical and space engineering. The satellite has a camera that captures images of earth from space. An Image Classification Unit also on the Guaranisat-1 sorts out the essential images through artificial intelligence. The crucial pictures are downloaded by the ground station every ninety seconds