“Welcome to space, Ecuador. Welcome to heaven, Pegasus,” was the way Ecuador’s first astronaut Ronnie Nader described the launch of the country’s first satellite Thursday night.
Officially named NEE-01 Pegaso, the small satellite –or nano satellite in space tech jargon—blasted off from northeast China, reaching orbit and spreading its solar panels 20 minutes later. Scientists at the Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (EXA) cheered the launch from headquarters in Quito. Also adding applause were President Rafael Correa and his cabinet and students in a Cuenca technogloy center who will help monitor the satellite’s operations.
Designed and built entirely in Ecuador, the satellite will orbit approximately 400 miles above the earth. Named after the winged horse of Greek mythology, Pegasus, the satellite will be used for scientific research, education, and technology demonstration, as well as to help detect near-Earth objects.
EXA has partnered with EarthCam to mount a live streaming camera on the satellite that users can tap into from the Web. EarthCam is a New Jersey-based company that provides webcam content and services to companies and government agencies for monitoring purposes; their Earthcam.com network of global webcams let you visit sites like Times Square as a virtual tourist, and soon you can add outer space to the list of places (befitting the company’s name). Viewers will be able to log on and view the Earth and beyond.
In the Cuenca suburb of Ricaurte, students at the Astronomical Sciences Center said they were excited to be part of Ecuador’s first space launch. The students have been given monitoring equipment to track Pegasus and record its observations. “We are all proud today to be Ecuadorians,” said student Angela Ortiz. “It’s a great day for our country.”
Ecuador plans to launch a second satellite from Russia later this year. Meanwhile, astronaut Nader hopes to sign up with a Chinese, Russian or U.S. mission in 2014 or 2015, to become the first Ecuadorian in space.
Photo caption: Ecuador's space center in Quito, and an early image from Pegasus.