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May 09, 2013

Estonia Launches its First Satellite, the ESTCube-1

By Christopher Mohr, TMCnet Contributing Writer

On Tuesday at 0606 GMT, Estonia's first satellite, the ESTCube-1, was launched from the Guiana Space Centre, near Kourou, French Guiana. It was aboard the Vega rocket, along with the Belgian Proba-V and Vietnamese VNREDSat 1A satellites before separating from the carrier and being launched into sun-synchronous orbit. The launch makes Estonia the 41st nation to send a man-made object into space.

ESTCube-1’s design is based on the CubeSat standard developed by professors from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and Stanford University. The small satellite was developed by students from Tartu University, Estonian Aviation Academy, Tallinn University of Technology and University of Life Sciences. 

The standard CubeSat satellite is referred to as a 1U (one unit) with dimensions of 10x10x10 cm or one liter in volume. Larger versions can also be built, such as the 2U (20x10x10 cm) and the 3U (30x10x10 cm).

ESTCube-1 slightly deviates from the 1U size, with dimensions of 10x10x11.35 cm. Its mission is to test an electronic solar wind sail as a potential propulsion method for future spacecraft. Secondarily, it is supposed to take pictures of the Earth's surface and of Estonia.

The first man-made satellite, Sputnik-1, was launched into space in October 1957 by the former Soviet Union, which consisted of several different states or republics including Estonia. In 1991, Estonia became an autonomous nation after the Soviet Union dissolved.

So much has changed since the heyday of NASA in the 1960s when space exploration was a Cold War competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The latest launch of the Vega rocket alone demonstrates that countries that were not traditionally associated with space exploration are now active participants.

The private sector has become more involved too, with Virgin developing space flights for passengers and SpaceX seeking to establish human life on Mars.

Analyzing the growth of space exploration in other countries and in private enterprise and combining those conditions with the end of iconic programs like the Space Shuttle program inevitably leads to one conclusion: NASA as we once knew it no longer exists and may eventually cease to exist altogether.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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