Student satellite ESTCube-2 aims to test plasma brake technology

On 4 January, the new model of the student satellite ESTCube-2 was presented at Tartu Observatory of the University of Tartu. The main goal of ESTCube-2 is to test plasma brake technology. On 14 June, in Czechia, the satellite will be handed over to the international team preparing a space mission, and it will be launched in the second half of the year.

The ESTCube-2 mission has three stages. First, contact must be established between the orbiting satellite and the ground station in Tõravere, and the electronics onboard the satellite must be thoroughly checked. Once this is done, the next task is to take pictures of the Earth's vegetation and carry out corrosion tests. The satellite will carry a number of materials to the space to measure their corrosion and thus gain new insights into their suitability for space. In the final stage of the mission, the propellantless propulsion system called the plasma brake will be tested.

Student satellite ESTCube-2. Photo: Laila Kaasik

In the future, the plasma brake technology may help to remove the satellites that have completed their mission from Earth's orbit. Currently, all satellites remain floating in space after their work is done and become space debris, endangering other, working equipment. Given that satellites have been sent into orbit for the last 50 years, and they could remain in orbit for up to 1,000 years after their mission, this is a big problem. Press Officer of ESTCube-2 Karl Vilhelm Valter says that if the tests are successful, the plasma brake could become mandatory safety equipment for small satellites, saving us from a build-up of space debris.

Plasma brake technology may help to remove the satellites that have completed their mission from Earth's orbit

The youngest member of the ESTCube-2 team is the junior engineer Agnes Rohtsalu, who is still an upper secondary school student. "I'm very excited about what the future holds for ESTCube-2 and what it will mean for Estonia, as it is definitely the next big step in Estonia's space history," she said at the press conference introducing the mission. Director of Tartu Observatory Antti Tamm added simply: "Estonia needs ESTCube."

The satellite will be launched onboard the Arianespace Vega-C rocket between August and December. On 14 June, in the integration labs in Czechia, ESTCube-2 will be handed over to the international team preparing the space mission. By then, the suitability of the satellite to cope with extreme conditions will also have been thoroughly tested.

ESTCube is a student research project. As part of this, Estonia's first satellite, ESTCube-1, was launched in 2013 and collected a wealth of scientific data during its two-year mission. Also in the ESTCube-2 project, most of the development work is the students' responsibility, but they can get advice from University of Tartu researchers and staff of several research-intensive companies.

On the illustration: Artist's impression of the ESTCube-2 satellite in space. Sources: Frost FX, ESTCube, Karl Vilhelm Valter

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