ESTCube-1: a year in space – only one mission left to fulfil
Year ago in the early morning of 7 May, at 5:06, the first Estonian satellite ESTCube-1 launched from French Guiana aboard a Vega carrier rocket. From this moment, the satellite has concluded 8700 hours of work with the aim of fulfilling a scientific mission – to emit an electric solar wind sail. The ESTCube-1 team gave an overview of a year in space on a press conference in the Tartu Observatory.
A member of the team, Erik Kulu, a Master’s student of physics at the University of Tartu, gave an overview of the satellite’s year in space through numbers. According to Kulu, ESTCube-1 has by now revolved around the Earth 5350 times, that is travelled for about 240 million kilometres, an average distance to Mars. During this period, 24 software updates have been made to the satellite and there have been 2700 two-way communication sessions.
Kulu, a team member involved in communication with the satellite, including the use of the camera system, said that although the main purpose of the camera was to photograph the emission of the solar wind sail, it has been of much use to many other systems: “The photographs can for instance be used for calibration and validation of the satellite’s positioning systems.” By now, ESTCube-1 has made 181 photographs of the Earth, covering the majority of the planet.
Mihkel Pajusalu, a Doctoral candidate of physics at the University of Tartu, said that the team has faced many challenges as outer space is a ruthless environment: “It became apparent already within a few months from the launch that the energy productivity of ESTCube-1’s solar panels has reduced faster than expected, but we managed to rebuild the software, thanks to which we now spend less energy and are able to successfully fulfil our mission.” According to him, almost 300 000 measurements have been performed in outer space by today which have given a lot of data for analysing the specific processes in outer space.
Mart Noorma, the leader of the ESTCube-1 project, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Science and Technology at University of Tartu affirmed that the mission has fulfilled all of its goals by today, but there is one remaining – the deployment of the electrical wind sail wire. Noorma told to Postimees that while initially they had hoped to execute the experiment within a few months, then by now they have still not started and are also currently not committing to any deadlines. Namely, some components of the cube have developed magnetism which is the main problem currently faced by the team hindering the wind sail experiment.
Mart Noorma said that although the opening of the wind sail has been delayed, the students have been active with many exciting things regarding studies as well as research and have developed the project further. “ESTCube-1 initiated by the students and teaching staff of the University of Tartu in 2008 is one of the most substantial educational cooperation projects,” said Noorma, adding that as far as the future is concerned, this is the educational approach he believes in – where students themselves have to develop the necessary solutions for learning: “This is the foundation of future studies of higher education in the future.”