FIVE FROM FINLAND: Space technology
With the space industry on the rise, more and more Finnish enterprises and research organisations are seeking new business opportunities for producing and applying space solutions that benefit the planet and humanity.
The first Finnish-built satellite, Aalto University’s two-kilogram Aalto-2, was launched into space in the spring of 2017, drawing significant public attention to Finland as a space nation. In fact, Finnish technology had made its way into outer space long before that – used in numerous space scanners and satellites, deployed on the International Space Station (ISS) and even landed on Mars.
Thanks to its world-class research capabilities, technology expertise and accommodating business climate, Finland has all it takes to significantly accelerate space business in the coming years. Moreover, Finland aims to become the world’s most attractive and agile space business environment by 2025, as outlined in the national space strategy.
Here are five Finnish space-related solutions that have made headlines in recent months.
This dynamic spacetech startup is disrupting traditional Earth imaging with its synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) microsatellites, the very first of which, ICEYE-X1, was launched into space in early 2018.
The SAR technology is superior to its optical alternatives in that it is capable of delivering reliable imaging data at any time and in any weather, also during darkness and overcast conditions. Further advantages come via the high frequency and timeliness of the imaging, making it a fitting solution for object detection, target tracking, activity monitoring and more.
In September this year, ICEYE raised 87 million US dollars (approx. 74 million euros) to continue and speed up the growth of its satellite constellation. To date, the company has successfully launched five SAR satellites and plans to launch another four by the end of the year and at least eight in 2021.
“ICEYE is enabling others to solve immeasurably difficult problems that affect the lives of millions of people around the world,” said CEO and co-founder Rafal Modrzewski. “Our team has built a reputation of delivering results to our customers with unmatched timelines and quality of service. We are proud of that reputation, and we intend to maintain it.”
The reputed Finnish networks giant, with rich experience in space and satellite technologies, was recently selected by NASA to build and deploy the first ever cellular communications network on the Moon by the end of 2022. The network is considered a crucial component of the ambitious plan to establish a long-term human presence on the Moon as a “warm-up” for future missions to Mars.
Designed by the company’s Nokia Bell Labs division, the ultra-compact, low-power and space-hardened end-to-end LTE solution will be delivered to the lunar surface by US-based aerospace engineering firm Intuitive Machines and will provide critical communications capabilities for astronauts, allowing for activities such as remote control of lunar rovers, real-time navigation and high-definition streaming.
“By building the first high-performance wireless network solution on the Moon, Nokia Bell Labs is once again planting the flag for pioneering innovation beyond the conventional limits,” stated Marcus Weldon, the chief technology officer at Nokia and president at Nokia Bell Labs.
No strangers to space endeavours, Vaisala and the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) have a long history of working together in NASA’s space exploration programmes. In July, FMI’s pressure and humidity measurement devices based on Vaisala’s world-known sensor technology ventured out of the Earth’s orbit onboard NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.
Once the rover lands on Mars, which is expected in February 2021, the Finnish-built instrumentation will start to obtain accurate and reliable pressure and humidity data from the planet’s surface. Meanwhile, the rover will form a small-scale observation network with its predecessor, Curiosity, which was equipped with similar solutions from Vaisala and FMI in 2012.
“We are honoured that Vaisala’s core sensor technologies have been selected to provide accurate and reliable measurement data on Mars,” commented Liisa Åström, vice president of products and systems at Vaisala. “Hopefully, the measurement technology will provide tools for finding answers to the most pressing challenges of our time, such as climate change.”
According to Maria Genzer, head of the planetary research and space technology group at FMI, “Mars is a particularly important area of atmospheric investigations due to its similarities to the Earth”. Thus, studying Mars provides experts with a better understanding of the behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Carried out for decades, VTT’s space technology research has created numerous helpful solutions used by industries ranging from defence and public safety, maritime and traffic to agriculture. VTT is particularly proud of its state-of-the-art remote sensing technology, with VISION, a tiny spectral imager for gas measurements in the atmosphere, one of the most exciting examples.
In September, VISION was launched into space on PICASSO, a 3.5-kilogram university-class satellite built for the European Space Agency (ESA) by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. The imager will be used to take various scientific measurements in the upper layers of the atmosphere, including sun occultation, nightglow and ozone distribution measurements.
“Integrating atmospheric measurement instruments into a satellite the size of a carton of milk is challenging – but the scientific opportunities are massive,” explained Antti Näsilä, research team leader at VTT. “In future, instruments like VISION can also be used to measure other gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane.”
In early 2020, VTT also delivered an augmented reality (AR) learning and operations tool for ESA to provide astronauts the advantages of human-machine collaboration. According to principal scientist Kaj Helin, the tool “reduces the risk of human error and significantly speeds up the work performance”.
With its virtual reality (VR) headsets capable of visualising images at a human-eye resolution, Varjo is continuously pushing VR boundaries and helping professionals in the most demanding industries. In June this year, Boeing chose Varjo’s unmatched VR technology to immerse astronauts into spaceflights without them leaving the Earth.
Astronauts from Boeing Starliner, a programme to develop a spacecraft for transporting astronauts to and from the ISS, are now using Varjo’s VR headsets to safely train for all aspects of their mission – from pre-launch to docking to landing, as well as emergency scenarios.
“We are proud to be delivering the technology that is pushing industrial training applications to their furthest reaches – even to space,” commented Niko Eiden, the chief executive and co-founder at Varjo. “With our devices, astronauts can see and virtually interact with the switches and control panels inside their Starliner capsule and read the real-time data on their crew displays. Advancements like this have the potential to transform the way any pilot is trained.”
Text: Zhanna Koiviola
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