First Estonian student satellite ESTCube-1 stopped operation

Mart Noorma | 20.05.2015

On 19 May 2015, the first Estonian satellite ESTCube-1 stopped operation. After two years and two weeks of successful operation in polar low Earth orbit, the solar panels producing electricity for ESTCube-1 stopped working. Thus the project achieved the objective set for the technical systems of the spacecraft: to create a satellite that would endure the conditions of space for at least two years.

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One of the last images taken by ESTCube-1 satellite in the space. Photo: Henry Kuutse/ESTCube-1 team

ESTCube-1 was officially retired on 17 February 2015, as the research programme of the mission was completed. Over the last couple of months, the team monitored the endurance of the subsystems of the satellite in the conditions of cosmic environment. The operation of the satellite ended as its solar panels had degraded to the level where the produced electricity was no longer sufficient to recharge batteries and keep the system running.

“The ESTCube mission can be considered very successful, as thanks to the results of our space cube, we can now say with confidence that in cooperation with international partners, young Estonian specialists are able to contribute to solving one of the largest strategic challenges of humankind: to create technical solutions required for commercial and research operations in the solar system,” said Mart Noorma, supervisor of the student satellite project, Associate Professor of the Institute of Physics of the University of Tartu and the Head of Department of Space Technology of Tartu Observatory.

Noorma added, however, that they did not manage to put the cherry on the cake, as the testing of the components of the electric solar wind sail showed that the system needs substantial improvement: “The electron gun of the electric solar wind sail worked, but unfortunately the most important tether could not be deployed.”

“When we started discussing the idea of Estonian student satellite at the end of 2007, we did not imagine how big and successful the Estonian student satellite programme would become. Now, eight years later, we can declare that all educational and science popularisation objectives of the project have been amply accomplished,” said Silver Lätt, Project Manager of ESTCube-1 and Research Fellow of Tartu Observatory.

By now, almost 200 students of more than ten nationalities have participated in the project. In addition to the students of the University of Tartu, the project involved students from Tallinn University of Technology, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonian Aviation Academy and Tallinn University. In the framework of the Science Special Task Force programme of Tartu Observatory, also Estonian senior secondary school students have contributed to the project.

The CubeSat ESTCube-1 was launched into the Earth’s orbit on 7 May 2013 from the spaceport of the European Space Agency in French Guiana in South America. This was the first satellite produced in Estonia the research objective of which was to study different novel space technology solutions for satellite subsystems and test the components of electric solar wind sail.

Some of the technologies created as a result of the project have already been commercialised. Participants in the student satellite programme have created five start-ups and published more than 80 research publications or presentations. Almost 50 bachelor’s or master’s theses on the subject have been defended. The first doctoral thesis fully based on the results of the ESTCube‑1 mission will be defended at the University of Tartu at the end of the year.

There are four last photos taken by ESTCube-1 in the space of California (first picture), the homeland of CubeSats. The CubeSat was invented at Stanford University. Both Silicon Valley and the Grand Canyon are visible on the photo. Copyright: Henri Kuuste / the ESTCube-1 team.

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Last image taken by ESTCube-1. California.png