Ulises 1: A Mexican Space Opera

Posted on August 28, 2013



In 2010, a group of artists from Mexico formed the Mexican Space Collective. Their goal: launch a nanosatellite into a low earth orbit (LEO) as an artistic installation – in space.

“Ulises 1 is an art and science project developed by the Mexican Space Collective entailing the launching of an artificial nanosatellite to space,” the Collective’s website says.

The collective, led by Mission Director Juan Jose Diaz Infante, is comprised of 11 artists who refer to their efforts to launch a satellite as a “poetic project.” The project is designed to incorporate artistic expression within scientific endeavor along with social elements and a political message.

“The mission of Ulises is to put a spatial opera into orbit,” the Ulises website says. “The plot of the opera is the entire process.”

Part of the motivation for this project is to provide a focal point for imagining possibilities outside the realities of existence. For Infante, those realities include the Mexican government’s war on drug cartels which, he says, causes problems for ordinary citizens who get caught in the cross fire.

“The basic thesis is: If a group of citizens can launch something to space, anyone can. It is a proof that reality can be changed in a good way,” Infante said in a post on the XSEAD website.

The Mexican Space Collective – which is leading the nation’s charge into space – formed one year before the Mexican Space Agency. Mexico’s new space agency, the Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEXA) is a national organization dedicated to developing Mexico’s space launch capacity and fostering investment in aerospace technology. But unlike the Space Collective, the Space Agency has no definite plans to build a satellite that will be launched into space.

The technical details of the satellite differ from other nanosatellites in that it won’t fit in the cubesat form factor. The Mexican Space Collective, instead, chose a TubeSat model which their website describes as a “hexadecagonal cylinder, assembled from printed circuit boards. The PCB system is piled with internal separators. The outer shell is made up of 8 PCB solar panels joined to 8 aluminum strips and one bipolar antenna.”


Other critical specifications of the project include:

Diameter: 8.9 cm (3.5 in) Length: 12.7 cm (5 in)

Weight: 0.75 kg (1.65 lb)

Weight of the shell: 250 g (0.55 lb)

But all that hardware is just the physical artifact of the entire project which has already manifested itself, in several venues, in the form of sound art installations, sculpture and original drawings.

Once the satellite is launched it will transmit sound art – original compositions by the Mexican Space Collective – for the duration of its time in orbit. These pieces have already been presented at the National Music Library during the Sala Interactiva Festival Play 2011.

In that installation, an image of the satellite was projected in front of attendees while one minute audio clips from the artist’s pieces played. The show was a ground-based representation of what the Collective hopes to install in outer space and transmit back to earth on Amateur radio frequencies.

“Inside the satellite, PCBs will form an opus of sound that will be transmitted from outer space over short-range radio waves (433 MHz),” the Collective’s website says.

Pieces to be played on the satellite include “Mantra Satellite Induction System (MSIS)” which is digitized audio of the Tibetan Buddhist chant “Om Mani Padme Hum” and “Sequence MAIHZ,” a sound interpretation of the image produced by sequencing a small piece of a corn genome.


Other pieces include the minimalist “Senoid” which will transmit a simple wave into outer space. “To draw a cone an infinite cone that expands in time into the Universe,” the artist’s statement on the XSEAD website says.


And “SONOCOSMOCOMEPLANETITAS” a song by Mexican rock group Cabezas de Cera, who make their own instruments. The group developed their piece as a character, a Sonocosmonaut, or sound astronaut, as a metaphor to travel in space, through sound.


“This astronaut is sound; we travel through listening to him, in the great imaginary. He is the Homo–Cosmos, he lives and plays among the galaxies, he feeds of [sic] planets, meteors and some stars,” the artist’s statement says.

To place the satellite in orbit, the Mexican Space Collective has engaged the launch services of Mojave based Interorbital Systems. Randa Milliron is the CEO and cofounder of Interorbital Systems. She said there is no exact date set for the launch yet.

We’re projecting that the launch will take place in the first quarter of 2014, if all goes well with the flight tests and our licensing,” Milliron said in an email.

The satellite will fly into space aboard Interorbital’s “NEPTUNE” N5 class of launch vehicle. Milliron said the launch was originally intended to originate from the Kingdom of Tonga, a small island nation in the South Pacific, but US export regulations have made that difficult.

Until we can get clearance to conduct launches from Tonga, we will launch from the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California, to the South for our polar orbits,” she said.

The Ulises website contains a diagram of the proposed orbit with a brief description of the satellite’s intended path.

“Ulises will be tracing a polar orbit around the Earth during three months, and will transmit its signal through civil/amateur station with frequency band of 433 MHz,” the Collective’s site says.

Ulises will fly into orbit with 23 other satellites aboard the NEPTUNE launch vehicle. Most of those satellites, Milliron says, contain amateur radio payloads.

A majority of these satellites will be using the amateur band and will happily encourage the involvement of the amateur radio community for locating and tracking these tiny spacecraft,” she said.

Listening to Ulises 1, or any of these other satellites, will require the assembly a simple amateur satellite ground station consisting of a sensitive hand-held scanner or amateur transceiver and a receiving antenna such as the “Slapshot.”

Ulises 1: A Mexican Space Opera has yet to enter its final act, but already there are plans for a new poetic project. And this time the collective has a little more help. According to Mission Director Infante, Ulises 2 has generated interest from Mexico’s academic and technical communities.

“We have been approached by UNAM (National University) and CAT (Center of High Technology) to form an interdisciplinary team with experts in space technology and artists to do the next generation of cultural satellites,” he said on the XSEAD website.


The group has secured funding through a grant from the Council of Technology and Ulises 2.0 will be known as “The Photographer.” No launch date is set for Ulises 2.0 and the project is still in its infancy but this group of artists should be commended for their unique efforts to colonize space with cultural satellites transmitting the voices of the artists who created them.


Editor’s Note:

Radio Frequency International Report made several attempts to contact Mission Director Juan Jose Diaz Infante to confirm several facts in this article, specifically the exact frequency to be used by Ulises 1, but received no response. RFIR will continue to monitor this project and report on its progress through launch, tracking and de-orbit.