Charles Villmann scholarship laureate Indrek Sünter: We can only imagine how little we know about the Universe | Tartu Observatory

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Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
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    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
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Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
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Faculty of Science and Technology
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Vanemuise 46–208, 51014 Tartu
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    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
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Institutions
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    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
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Support Units
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Other Units
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Contacts of UT units

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5341
Faculty address: 
Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5341
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of History and Archaeology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5651
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5221
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5314
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 309–352, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5223
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Theology and Religious Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18–310, 50090 Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 4, 50409, Tartu
  • Viljandi Culture Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 435 5232
    Faculty address: 
    Posti 1, 71004 Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Education
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a–29, 50103 Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36–301, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Psychology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5902
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu
  • School of Law
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5390
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 20–324, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Social Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5188
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Narva College
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 1900
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 2, 20307 Narva
  • Pärnu College
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 445 0520
    Faculty address: 
    Ringi 35, 80012 Pärnu
Faculty of Medicine
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5326
Faculty address: 
Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5326
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4210
    Faculty address: 
    Biomeedikum, Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Pharmacy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5286
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Dentistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 731 9856
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 6, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5323
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 8, 50406 Tartu
  • Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4190
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5–205, 51005 Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46–208, 51014 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46–208, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5261
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5860
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5027
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23, 23b–134, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu Observatory
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4510
    Faculty address: 
    Observatooriumi 1, Tõravere, 61602 Tartumaa
  • Institute of Technology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4800
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5835
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Institutions
  • Library
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5702
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Youth Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5581
    Faculty address: 
    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Genomics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4000
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23b, 51010 Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5674
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 25, 51003 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6076
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Support Units
  • Administrative Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5606
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4809
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009, Tartu
  • University Office in Tallinn
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6600
    Faculty address: 
    Teatri väljak 3, 10143 Tallinn
  • Estates Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5137
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Finance Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5125
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 4, 51005 Tartu
  • Grant Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6215
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 9, 51004 Tartu
  • Information Technology Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6000, IT-help: +372 737 5500
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Human Resources Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5145
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090 Tartu
  • Internal Audit Office
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18-244, 51005 Tartu
  • Marketing and Communication Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5687
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 102, 104, 209, 210, 50090 Tartu
  • Office of Academic Affairs
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5620
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Procurement Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6632
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Rector's Strategy Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5600
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Student Council
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18b, 51005 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Press
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5945
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
Other Units
  • University of Tartu Academic Sports Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5371
    Faculty address: 
    Ujula 4, 51008 Tartu
  • Tartu Student Village
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 9959
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 25, 51013 Tartu
  • Tartu Students’ Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 730 2400
    Faculty address: 
    Kalevi 24, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu University Hospital
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 1a, 50406 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Foundation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5852
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • View all other units

Charles Villmann scholarship laureate Indrek Sünter: We can only imagine how little we know about the Universe

“Who knows what could be possible if only you chose something exciting and didn’t give up until it was properly done” – this is the mentality that this year’s Charles Villmann scholarship laureate Indrek Sünter wants to inject into others. Sünter himself is the very impersonation of it: he had a key role in the first ESTCube mission and is part of the team that is preparing for the second one. Besides that, he is developing the cameras of the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO).

“I was passing the noticeboard on the first floor on the Tähe 4 study building and found a magazine cutout about the ESTCube project,“ Sünter started. It was his second bachelor’s year at University of Tartu, but he had been interested in space and satellites basically since birth. He went to ESTCube meetings, read a quite general book about space systems and joined the team with the least members. About a month later the previous team leader decided to leave and Sünter was left alone in his team.

In the record satellite team

That’s how it became Sünter’s task to develop the main onboard computer for ESTCube-1. Before starting university, Sünter had been doubting between physics and computer systems, but in the end had made up his mind in favour of physics. “It seemed more mysterious and I thought that I could be able to learn computer technology by myself as well,” he explained.

But the ESTCube project was guiding Sünter the other way. Although he could more or less link his bachelor’s thesis with physics, he felt that if he wanted to continue developing the software of the onboard computer in his master’s studies, he would have to switch to computer technology.

It was the second year of his master’s studies when ESTCube-1 was launched in orbit, carrying on board the computer that he had been developing. It became a record satellite in many ways: it was the first (student) satellite of Estonia, the first ever known satellite to deliberately reach the spin rate of 841 deg/s, and the first satellite to test out the concept of an electric solar wind sail.

Sünter has also participated in planning of the interface of the satellite subsystems and writing the operation software.

Still more to write about

Right now Sünter is a junior researcher at Tartu Observatory and a third year PhD student at university. Partly by chance he is back at the physics institute: this is where the work group for space and military technologies is located. “The space is the great unknown – you can only imagine how little we know about the Universe. To find out how the Universe works, we must first develop the technology and build the measuring devices,” Sünter thinks.

Although we have already lost connection with ESTCube-1, the satellite still offers much to write about. Sünter is writing his PhD thesis on the design and characterisation of subsystems and software for the nanosatellite. His supervisor is Mart Noorma. In his thesis he also describes a few of the tests that were run on ESTCube-1, among them the engine test of the electric solar wind sail.

The electric solar wind sail would allow exciting science

Right now work is being done to send ESTCube-2 in orbit. It will be a technology demonstration mission. Sünter hopes that ESTCube-2 will successfully deploy the electric solar wind sail, load it electrostatically and therefore be able to slower the satellite. Until now, no one has been able to do so. „I think that the electric solar wind sail is more of an engineering-technical solution that would allow some exciting science,“ Sünter claimed.

A future plan is to come up with spectral cameras with electric solar wind sails in asteroid mapping purposes. “For that kind of a mission, an electric solar wind sail would be a lot more effective than the classical solar wind sails, rocket and ion engines. It could help make the mission a lot cheaper,” he said.

Cameras as a team job

Sünter is mainly a supervisor in the process of ESTCube-2: for the last two and a half years a lot of his energy has been spent on developing cameras for the European Student Earth Orbiter (ESEO) instead. ESEO is also a small satellite that is being developed for educational purposes. The opportunity to work on that opened largely because of the high-quality photos of the ESTCube-1 cameras that stood out among the community of satellite developers.

ESEO’s primary camera is quite similar for the one of ESTCube-1, but the secondary camera is something completely different. “The secondary camera of ESEO is an intermediate step between a camera for beautiful shots and a scientific instrument,” Sünter described.

Overall, a team of four has been working on the cameras. However, since this summer, Sünter has basically been the only one.

In some ways working on the cameras also means working for ESTCube-2: the camera that Sünter is developing will also be on board of the Estonian nanosatellite. The first difference is in the amount of cameras: there will be two cameras on board of the ESEO, but only the secondary camera on ESTCube-2. The electrical interfaces of the two will also differ. The camera hood of the secondary camera of ESEO will be replaced with a smaller and simpler one on ESTCube-2: ESTCube satellites themselves are much smaller than the ESEO as well.

The sky is not the limit

In a way, the purpose of ESTCube is to bring practical space science closer to people. The ESTCube team visits schools, welcomes children and students at Tõravere and is presented at different events. This week, for example, ESTCube is presented at the Garage48 hackathon.

“Space technology is no rocket science... Okay, it is, but people have preconceptions about it. When it comes to preconceptions, it is amazing how many secondary or high school students manage a lot better than the university ones,” Sünter said. In his opinion a lot of university students have lost their enthusiasm about making something really big happen.

Sünter also thinks that the student satellite project only has a point if there is a next generation that can manage themselves as well. “We try to spread the mindset that the sky is not the limit. Who knows what could be possible if only you chose something exciting and didn’t give up until it was properly done,” Sünter said.

Tartu Observatory scholarships were appointed last week. Besides Sünter, there were two other laureates: Ave Ansper earned the Juhan Ross scholarship and Maarja Kruuse was appointed the Ernst Julius Öpik scholarship.