Estonia's first satellite, the ESTCube-1, successfully reached the end of its mission yesterday when it stopped working after just over two years in space.
"Looking at the energy production levels during yesterday's morning communication session it became clear that it would be the day the satellite stopped working," the project leader Mart Noorma told Estonian daily Postimees, adding that this was the expected turn of events since the satellite's official retirement in February.
"In February, the scientific mission was fulfilled, but now the solar panels are no longer capable of charging the batteries and the satellite is no longer functional," Noorma explained. The satellite will now begin a downward descent, until eventually burning up in the atmosphere in about 20 years.
According to Noorma, the next larger-scale space technology project for Estonia is participating in the construction of the European Space Agency's (ESA) ESEO satellite, a collaborative student mission, set to fly into space in 2016. Estonia also supports other European space projects. It is as a member of Eumetsat, a contributor to the EU Common Space development project, and to Europe’s Copernicus environmental and monitoring and security system. The country became the 21st member of European Space Agency in February.
The 10x10x11.35 centimeter cube, weighing just over a kilogram, was sent into orbit on May 7, 2013. The main aim of Estonia's first ever satellite was to test solar sail technology developed by Finnish researcher Pekka Janhunen.
One of its last acts was to transmit Valentine's Day messages to space. Messages were saved to the satellite’s radiation-resistant memory and will orbit Earth for more than two decades.
Project leader Mart Noorma said that the program met its aims - many young scientists and engineers have gained invaluable experience in space research. The project has yielded 29 bachelor's and 19 master's dissertations, 5 doctoral theses, 4 start-ups, and been the basis of 12 already published and 5 upcoming research articles, as well as 53 presentations.
Editor: A. Kaer, S. Tambur