Estonia’s first satellite, ESTCube-1, was rocketed off to orbit the Earth early morning on Tuesday, thus making Estonia the 41st nation to have a man-made object in space.
Estonia has become the 41st nation to have a man-made object in space, beating out Finland and the other Baltic countries, all of which are due to launch their first satellites in the coming years.
The nanosatellite reached orbit at around 07:06 Estonian time. Launched from the Guiana Space Center, ESTCube-1 was carried by the launch vehicle Vega and was accompanied by two other satellites, Europe’s Proba V and Vietnam’s VNREDSat 1A.
According to ESTCube-1 team, everything went according to plan. One of the project’s leaders, senior researcher Mart Noorma at Tartu Observatory, watched the launch live at Arianspace.tv. “I am very proud to be seeing all these students here who are watching their handiwork of five years,” Noorma said.
Speaker of Estonian Parliament, Ene Ergma, herself an astrophysicist by training, was in French Guiana to observe the launch and said that Estonia is now a “tiny space country.” “It’s a really big deal in my opinion,” she said.
University of Tartu students had been developing the nanosatellite since 2008 and preparations for the project were made even earlier. ESTCube-1 is now due to carry out innovative solar wind experiments.
Around 100 students and scientists have contributed to creation of the tiny one-kilogram satellite, which was nearly six years in the making. The satellite, called ESTCube-1, was used as the basis for 40 research projects and three doctoral theses.
Mart Noorma, Vice-Dean for Studies at the University of Tartu’s Faculty of Science and Technology is the satellite project initiator and leader. “The students have worked really hard to fit the whole important mission into the little cube. The project’s biggest value to the Estonian state and nation is this new generation of young engineers and scientists who received from here a very practical experience in developing high technology with their own hands, which is applicable not only in space but in the electronics industry as a whole,” Noorma said.
ESTCube-1′s main function in space will be to conduct experiments with an electric solar wind sail, which scientists believe may allow space travelers to one day move faster and across greater distances. The ESTCube-1 will travel 680 kilometers from Earth, where it will test solar sail technology developed by Finnish researcher Pekka Janhunen.
The satellite will be transmitting data to Tartu Observatory in Tõravere.
The launch vehicle Vega (Vettore Europeo di Generazione Avanzata, Advanced Generation European Carrier Rocket) is an expendable launch system in use by Arianespace, jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. Development began in 1998 and the first launch took place from the Guiana Space Centre on 13 February 2012.