International Astronautical Congress shifted borders

Kairi Janson, Anu Reinart | 18.10.2017

From September 25 to 29, 2017, Director of Tartu Observatory Anu Reinart and Junior Research Fellow Iaroslav Iakubivskyi attended the International Astronautical Congress held on the other side of the world – Adelaide, Australia. One of the main topics of the biggest space sector event in the world was how to find synergy in the increasing number of fields that show interest in operating in space.

IAF 2017 Austraalia Anu Reinart Liisa Oviir
Director of Tartu Observatory Anu Reinart and EISC Chairwoman Liisa Oviir on IAC2017

“The space is not just a field of great countries, it interests experts of all levels – small businesses, tourists, entertainment, technology corporations, science,“ Reinart explained. “What is the role of each field, who is responsible of what: all of this is still in progress.“

The sky is not the limit

Adelaide, the location of this year’s congress, is somewhat significant. It is only a few hundred kilometres from Woomera, the town from which Australia launched its first rocket, being the third country ever to do so.

However, as one can tell from this year’s slogan “Unlocking Imagination, Fostering Innovation and Strengthening Security”, the main focus of the congress was rather on newer achievements and the future. For example, a conformation for the gravitational wave measurement methodology came during the congress. As future perspectives, SpaceX shared information about the progress in their Mars programme and the European Space Agency presented the concept of MoonVillage.

The young generation is valued

About 4,500 people participated in this year’s astronautical congress. The event brought together all of the space agencies, but also many scientists, engineers, businesses, students and other people interested in astronautics. The young generation is especially taken notice of: there are young specialist grant systems and the special programme aimed on them makes coming to the congress easier.

Reinart said that youngsters are especially important in Estonian space field as well. We are a so-called second wave space country: we only got the access to space programmes two years ago when we joined the European Space Agency. This was a boost for the development of our own satellite programme and extended the international dimension as well. “But the most important aspect is that this has inspired hundreds of youngsters to study fields associated with science and technology and to work in those fields,” Reinart noted.

Both the Estonian youth and our satellite programme got attention in the congress as well, because junior research fellow Iakubivskyi held a presentation on ESTCube 2.

Inland activity needs to be coordinated

Reinart said using space technology is very important in gaining information on the big but little inhabited continent of Australia. Land, air and water connections depend much on the weather. The climate and nature of Australia are very diverse and therefore need different methods for protection and monitoring – this is the matter that makes remote sensing especially important in Australia. Reinart said that other than that, all of the other space-related fields are quite well covered as well in Australia. One of the few things the Australians didn’t have until this year is the CubeSat type of small satellite. They got the satellite through a student programme, just like us.

During this year’s astronautical congress the Australians announced founding their national space agency. The main stimulus is the need for greater inland coordination and synergy. Reinart said it was even surprising for some that the agency had not been founded earlier. She said that Estonians could learn from it and not wait 50 years or more to coordinate our inland space activities.

Proud to be an Estonian

Besides educational presentations the congress had a big exhibition area where all types of space-related achievements could be seen. “Mars rovers were wandering around and new intelligent machines that haven’t been sent to missions yet. You could see many nanosatellites owned by small businesses and new interesting ideas of what to do with them,” Reinart described.

Nevertheless, Reinart thinks that one of the best aspects about the congress is the direct contact between the participants. That helped to bring up many new ideas of how to put our current technological abilities to the test in new collaboration programmes. She said that it is key to quickly get to know the network.  “There is no tiny Estonian space in which we can operate in our own pace – if we’re not on the same level as the others there is no point in doing anything in this field. But we can do it, can’t we,” Reinart said.

However, it was good to recognize that Estonia didn’t have to be introduced to anyone: we already have friends and colleagues all over the world. As a pleasant surprise Reinart found out that our work in the space field is not the only thing Estonia is known for among this network. For example, during the gala dinner on the final day, Reinart sat next to an elderly couple that had been working for the NASA their entire lives. “The minute I said that I was from Estonia they started praising our music: Arvo Pärt, but of course others as well, and Neeme Järvi who they often go and see conduct concerts,” Reinart said.

Next year the congress will take place in Bremen, Germany. Reinart said that Estonia wants to have an even bigger delegation going: Bremen is near and Estonia has a lot to show both from science and business fields.