Tallinn University of Technology

Originally planned for June 19, the launch of the Vega launch vehicle in French Guiana will be postponed and the decision will be made in the near future as to whether it will take place on 21 or 22 June or later. TalTech will announce the exact time as soon as possible.

Vega, a rocket of the European Space Agency, will launch into space with an Estonian satellite on board: the student satellite Hämarik (Dusk). This will be the first time ever that high-frequency data communication is tested on such a small satellite – a 1U-size cube satellite with a radio transmitter operating in the 10 GHz frequency band has never been launched into space before.

Hämarik is the second of two student satellites to be launched into orbit by TalTech in cooperation with Datel AS. On 5 June last year, Koit (Dawn) satellite was launched from Russia. Koit and Hämarik are 1U cube satellites (10 × 10 × 10 cm) which were built in the last six years by TalTech students and their supervisors.

Koit and Hämarik were built to monitor the Earth from space – the satellites take pictures and videos to track events, map the Earth, and monitor vegetation. Both satellites have two remote sensing cameras, one for capturing colour (RGB) and the other for near-infrared (NIR) picture. These cameras can be used, for example, to analyse the viability of forests and fields and the quality of the marine environment in time and space.

Although Koit and Hämarik have been created identical in both form and function, Hämarik has undergone more experiments on Earth and its software has been upgraded. The satellites are designed to fly in different orbits to follow the Earth from different angles. Once Hämarik reaches orbit, the next stage will begin in the life of the satellite – remote software updates and experiments. With TalTech’s satellite Hämarik, it is also planned to measure radiation levels and test optical communication (the satellites have LEDs and lasers). It will also be possible to perform various computing, cryptography, and radio-frequency tests.

Unfortunately, radio communication has not been established with Koit, the satellite which was launched last year. Namely, more than 30 nanosatellites were launched into orbit from Russia with the Soyuz rocket. Communication has been established with most of those satellites, but five satellites have not responded to their teams back on Earth. Koit is one of those satellites. All these objects are monitored by radar and their location is known quite precisely. They can also be observed with a telescope at certain times, but at the moment, it is not possible to identify which of them is Taltech’s satellite Koit.

As part of TalTech’s satellite project, a ground station was also built on the roof of Mektory. A ground station is needed to communicate with and receive images taken by the satellite. To communicate with a satellite that is in near-Earth orbit, the antenna must be very precisely pointed at the satellite, which is moving across the sky. A session during which a satellite passes over the ground station lasts for a maximum of 14 minutes. During this time, the antenna must be in constant motion to accurately track the satellite. This is the only way to establish a high-speed data connection with the satellite. When Hämarik reaches orbit, the large parabolic antenna will not be operational at fist. Communication will take place via smaller antennas, and when the software of the high-speed communication system is ready, the large parabolic antenna will be activated.

The satellite programme of TalTech started in 2014. The satellite programme is an international, interdisciplinary, university-wide programme that is carried out in association with national and international partners from various industries and academia. The development of the satellite and testing of its subsystems took place in 2016–2018. Satellites Koit and Hämarik were completed in 2019 and Koit was launched into orbit on 5 July 2019. After that, Hämarik underwent further testing; for example, more extensive vibration and impact tests were performed, and as a result, the satellite’s components and subsystems were made more reliable.

During the six years, more than 150 students have participated in the satellite programme, which has provided them with an opportunity to gain experience in various fields. The programme gives students the opportunity to get involved the area they know best, from engineering to marketing.

The university is open to new opportunities for cooperation in future space projects. The Space Centre of TalTech wants to facilitate further development in the field of Earth observation, and the student team has already outlined new and larger satellite platforms for Earth observation that would allow even better data quality. It is planned to permanently employ a parabolic antenna for the ground station to enable cooperation with other satellite operators or offer a service in retrieving data from space.

The TalTech satellite program is supported by AS Datel, AS Telegrupp, Mediq Eesti OÜ, Lennuliiklusteeninduse AS, AS CGI Eesti, Stoneridge Electronics AS. Program's partners are IB Krates OÜ, KBFI, Tõravere Observatory of University of Tartu, PERH, Brandner PCB OÜ, Satrian Aerospace OÜ, Radius Space OÜ.

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