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Tartu scientists to build specialized cameras for space industry

ESTCube-1, Estonia's first satellite.
ESTCube-1, Estonia's first satellite. Source: (PM/Scanpix)

The camera used on Estonia’s first satellite, ESTCube-1, has brought first orders for University of Tartu scientists to build more for the space industry. Their first custom-made camera will be mounted on a satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA) in January 2017.

Vice rector for academic affairs of the University of Tartu and initiator of the ESTCube project, Mart Noorma, sees the success of the camera as a long-awaited opportunity for the development of space technology in Estonia.

“We see it as a chance for entrepreneurship. The European Space Agency needed a high-quality photo camera system for the new satellite, and only two workgroups remained in their selection from all over Europe, including us.”

Andris Slavinskis, head of the space technology department of Tartu Observatory, added that the next step would be to establish a company, whose first development would be cameras suitable for cube satellites similar to ESTCube-1.

At the Startup Day conference held in Tartu on Dec. 9, ESA announced that its next business incubation center would be established in Tartu. For those developing space cameras and other similar technologies, this is a chance to find support and contacts here in Estonia.

“Every cube satellite needs an on-board camera, because that will provide evidence of their having been out in space. At the moment we are in the process of getting our first contract for building a camera, although we haven’t even advertised it,” Slavinskis said.

The cost of a single camera is approximately €10,000. The team are currently also working on ESTCube-2 and ESTCube-3. The latter is planned for orbiting the moon.

Estonia’s first satellite, ESTCube-1, was launched on May 7, 2013 with a Vega rocket of ESA. The satellite is very small, measuring just 10x10x11.35 centimeters. Its mission ended in 2015.

Though the main objective of the project was the construction of the satellite itself by Estonian students, a solar wind sail invented by Finnish scientist Pekka Janhunen was tested on the mission as well.

ESTCube-1 resulted in 29 bachelor’s and 19 master’s dissertations, five doctoral theses, and four start-up companies.

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: University of Tartu, Katre Tatrik

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