New breed of space tech is coming from Finland

5/10/2016
High tech and Finland go together. This northern country initiated the mobile phone revolution, built mighty ice breakers, conceived the high-rise super elevators and invaded the world with Angry Birds. But how many Finnish space mission can you name?

Not very many likely: Finland is only now becoming a space power. The first Finnish satellite, student-built Aalto-1 is slated to be launched in this summer, and it has already several successors being built and designed, with many other new-style space missions shaping up.

In fact, Finland has been in space business for a long time. When the Huygens lander touched down to Saturn's moon Titan in 2004, it was guided by Finnish radars while sniffing the hazy atmosphere with Finnish instruments. The huge main mirror of the world's largest space telescope, ESA's Herschel, was polished to its mind-boggling accuracy in Finland. The background radiation detected by Planck mission (image below) was in fact gathered with Finnish radio receivers. And the GOMOS instrument aboard the Envisat environmental satellite was more expensive and complicated than many small satellites.

Add the meteorological sensors used by ESA and NASA on almost every Mars surface mission, sensors on the landing legs of Rosetta's Philae lander that made first contact with the comet surface, software running on several satellites, microwave technology on Sentinel-1 satellites, electric field and particle detectors, X-ray instruments and the electronics controlling the power supply for many spacecraft, Finland is definitely not lacking the space segment knowhow. It's just not a Finnish way to shout about these kinds of success stories.

Startups rise

This newly founded company, Reaktor Space Lab, is looking toward the emerging era of satellite business. It's one of the new, ambitious and flexible companies that inspired by SpaceX and empowered by possibilities nano-satellite technology trying to bring part of the small satellite business to Finland. Iceye is another start-up, but it has its eyes on larger systems. It has developed a compact and light super radar that can be easily accommodated in small satellites with mass of about 100 kg. The company is planning a fleet of these satellites, providing around-the-clock and global Earth observation data for clients ranging from shipping companies to agriculture and more institutional bodies from disaster relief to climate scientists. The technology could be adopter later also in planetary missions.

New service company Satellio offers analysis and data products based on the Earth observation data gathered by the different satellites, especially the Sentinels of the EU's Copernicus system.

The most successful Finnish space company, Space Systems Finland, is experiencing a boom, especially after introducing its knowhow from space to earthly critical systems, such as heavy machinery and medicine. All these are accompanied by dozens of other newly founded companies and the old players like DA-Design, RUAG Finland, Oxford Instruments Analytical and Vaisala, to name just few, who are all benefiting from the fresh wind blowing in the Finnish space community.

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Text: Jari Mäkinen
Image: ESA

Tekes is the coordinator of Finland's space activities. More information on space related business and research from www.spacefinland.fi.

Kaj Nordgren
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