Amazonia 1: discover the software that keeps the Brazilian satellite in space

Amazonia 1: On February 28, Brazil launched the Amazonia 1 satellite, the first 100% developed by the country. The project was run by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), in partnership with the Brazilian Space Agency, and had some curiosities, including the use of a little-known programming language: Julia.

He holds a degree in Automation Control Engineering from the University of Brasilia, a PhD in Electronic Engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA), has been working at Inpe since 2013 and started participating in the big project about 5 months after he took office.

The expert says that the undertaking was very challenging because, despite the country’s knowledge in the area of ​​satellites, this time all responsibility was with Brazil. “In the case of CBERS [Sino-Brazilian Earth Resources satellite], for example, we worked together with China, and they had a lot of know-how. This time, we had to use all the knowledge that we only had in the theoretical part and little in practice ”, he explained.

He exemplified that the definition of the tests was one of the most difficult parts, since the replication of the conditions of the space are complex to do.

In addition, one of the tasks of Arraes and his team was to define the orbit of the satellite, which was done at the very beginning. In this process, it was established that the device would be at an average altitude of 752 km, a position that allows the equipment’s camera to record photos of the entire Brazilian territory in 5 days.

Julia’s help

Towards the middle and end of the project, even before the launch, Arraes coordinated the testing phase of the attitude control subsystem of Amazônia 1. The technical procedure aims to manage the orientation of a satellite in space in addition to the information about the orbit.

During this stage, it was necessary to carry out attitude control simulations to analyze various parameters on the satellite’s positioning. In the midst of this computer analysis, the team realized that the so-called “interpreted languages” were unable to deliver the answers at the speed required by the mission.

It was then that the programming language Julia appeared as a candidate to meet the need. Appeared in mid-2012, the tool is used by only 1% of the nearly 20 thousand programmers interviewed by the company JetBrains.

The language was developed by Jeff Bezanson, Stefan Karpinski, Viral B. Shah and Alan Edelman, whose intention was precisely to offer specialists high-level programming that had a good numerical and scientific performance.

In an interview with the InfoWorld website, Bezanson revealed the choice of the tool’s nickname. “This is a question that everyone asks. In fact, there is no good reason. It just seemed like a very nice name.”

“Julia was a bet that ended up solving our problems. It seems interpreted, but it is not, it can be executed as the more traditional ones like C and C ++ and still delivers speed ”, argued Arraes.

The language also brought another important benefit: zero spending. It is open source and, therefore, there is no need to pay to use it, and the Inpe specialist said that the use of language was essential to leverage the work of Amazonian attitude control 1.

Currently, even with the satellite in orbit, Julia is used in sectors such as the logical attitude control simulator, the telemetry system (remote communication) and in the calibration of the sensor in orbit. Previously, it had been used in general mission analysis, budgeting, fuel, ground station feasibility analysis and more.

Historical mission

The launch of the Brazilian satellite into space represented a sense of accomplishment, according to Arraes, who explained that, as an architect of the mission, he remains responsible for controlling the attitude of Amazonia 1.

The technician even denied that the satellite went through a moment of lack of control and maintained that until now no analysis has fled from what was expected: “We have not had any occurrences, for the time being, and we can say that everything is on schedule”.

The architect of the project also pointed out that the feat shows how much Brazil has good professionals and how Inpe can respond to various types of demands. He recalled that the mission has among its objectives to observe deforestation in the Amazon region and to validate the Multimission Platform (PMM), which may help in the development of other 100% national satellites.

“Brazil is a country with continental dimensions and needs to have a vision of space. By being successful in this endeavor, we show how the country has a technical background to do this type of work. And this is just the beginning, because such a novelty ends up generating very important results and innovations that we could not even foresee ”, concluded Arraes.




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