ESTCube-1 launch in 2013 made Estonia a fast-growing spacefaring nation. Now that ESTCube-2 is ready and awaiting its space launch, several more cube satellite missions are being planned, and a cube rover is being developed. It all started with the launch of Estonia’s first satellite ESTCube-1 into space ten years ago on 7 May.
The ESTCube educational programme, which started as an outlandish vision at Tartu Observatory and the University of Tartu 15 years ago, has proved incredibly successful. The ESTCube-1 and ESTCube-2 satellites were built to be launched into the Earth’s orbit. The larger and more ambitious ESTCube-3, however, is intended as an artificial satellite for the Moon. Just like its predecessors, it has an electric, solar wind sail or an e-sail on board. The third satellite’s sail is much longer, and its scientific goal is to test it in the lunar environment. The Moon has no magnetic field or atmospheric layer to protect it from the solar wind. Furthermore, Crystalspace, a University of Tartu spin-off whose team started in the ESTCube-1 mission, is building a five-camera system for the satellite to determine its precise position in lunar orbit.
The ESTCube-3 project will be implemented in a large-scale international collaboration. “ESTCube-3 will be the most advanced satellite mission so far,” said Andris Slavinskis, Associate Professor at Tartu Observatory. “When designing the mission, I can draw on my other experience, such as working with the European Space Agency’s Comet Interceptor mission.”
In addition, the Estonian Student Satellite Foundation is already planning a new project SUTS, the satellite for strategic innovation experiments. It will be Estonia’s most cost-effective near-Earth orbit satellite with the fastest communications. SUTS will be a collaborative project of the University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology. “Both universities have unique strengths, and we decided that the division of tasks would add a lot of competence to the team,” explained Katriin Kristmann, project manager of the new satellite and a doctoral student at Tallinn University of Technology. “Right now, we are laying the groundwork for the project.”
The ESTCube-1 and ESTCube-2 were built following the cube satellite standard, which is accepted worldwide. Inspired by that principle, Tartu Observatory has also launched the KuupKulgur project to build planetary rovers. Such cube rovers carry their payload in a 10 x 10 x 10 cm cube.
The team members and partners of the ESTCube missions held a seminar at Tartu Observatory of the University of Tartu to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ESTCube-1 launch. The satellite worked in orbit for two years and took 300 photos during that time.