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= ESTCube, a CubeSat Estonian grassroots initiative, organized through the Estonian Student Satellite Foundation and based at the University of Tartu (Estonia)


Lucas Barreiro Lemos:

"Is it really possible that a group of students can do the same job, in a volunteer work basis, as experienced well-paid engineers from well-established and conspicuous funded national space agencies? Project Lightsail was the most successful crowdfunding CubeSat campaign up until 2015, raising more than 1,2 million dollars for the purpose of creating a CubeSat that would use solar sail propulsion. (The Planetary Society 2018; Kalnina et al. 2018). Two years later, in 2017, ESTCube-2 started a crowdfunding campaign in Estonia, targeting and raising 30,000 euro for the purpose of creating a CubeSat that would use solar sail propulsion.

(Kalnina et al. 2018) The main difference between these initiatives was that LightSail has at its disposal NASA space lab facilities and the support of space research veterans, while ESTCube was using the facilities of a university located in a small country that does not even have a national space agency, and by using the support of a local community of amateur space enthusiasts, students, practitioners and local SMEs

ESTCube defines itself as “a combination of various initiatives — education, science, technology, as well as student and volunteer organizations” — that can be briefly described as a community. (Kalnina et al. 2018) It is a Estonian space research grassroot movement mostly supported by Tartu University and Tartu Observatory, that has teamed up with the Finnish Meteorological Institute to perform a three-stage satellite series of e-sailing in-orbit demonstration (IOD) oriented towards educational purposes and space engineers community building. The three stage satellite series is forecasted to occur through the development launching and testing of a three CubeSat series consisting on ESTCube-1, that has been launched in 2013, ESTCube-2, that is currently under development, and ESTCube-3 that would perform the last e-sailing test. After that, if the initiative has succeeded, the research and prototyping phase would be over, and the production phase of mature technology would start; a technology aiming to interplanetary travel, nonetheless.

ESTCube-1 was a collaborative effort with many international partners that started without prior in-house experience, it took five years of development and contributions from around 200 students from 10 countries whose work materialized in over 30 Bachelor thesis and over 20 Master thesis were defended, with 14 scientific articles published, 50 presentations and 4 spin-off companies created (Slavinskis et al. 2015; Lätt et al. 2014), “building the country’s first satellite, which made Estonia a space nation, earned ESTCube-1 a place in history and recognition in society”. (Kalnina et al. 2018)

ESTCube-2 in-orbit demonstration platform aim is also to test the electric solar wind sail, but this time the orbit would take place outside of the influence of Earth’s magnetic field. A continuation from the experience of ESTCube-1, other objective of ESTCube-2 is to “develop a small and competent satellite bus solution”. (Ehrpais 2016) ESTCube-2 is designed to test technologies that would be used during ESTCube-3 test of the electric sail in the solar wind environment, for what the satellite should be launched in lunar orbit. (Kalnina et al. 2018)."