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Expose capacity of the Estonian Space Research and Technology through High Quality Partnership in Europe

Final Report Summary - ESTSPACE (Expose capacity of the Estonian Space Research and Technology through High Quality Partnership in Europe)

Having 200 years experience in space research, Tartu Observatory is the leading center of astronomical research in Estonia, also possessing an internationally acknowledged competence in remote sensing of natural environment. Tartu Observatory research strategy brings together scientific and public goals. This enables to respond to the challenges that modern technology, political situation and economic needs create.

Project ESTSPACE started in 2008 for three years with general objective to enhance the potential and research capacities of Estonian scientists in space and atmospheric research, space technology and remote sensing by supporting and mobilising human and material resources and developing strategic partnerships with other research groups in Europe. The partnerships enables the better focusing of future research efforts, support closer cooperation of Estonia with the European Space Agency (ESA) and facilitate the participation of Estonian scientists in Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme and most relevant activities in European Research Area (ERA) as well as in global space community.

Project context and objectives:

During the project we envisaged the following activities:

- build a sustainable cooperation network with strategic partners and establish international advisory council;
- contribute to the European space and atmospheric research, through partnership in the European Union (EU) research networks and improved coordination in related activities between research institutions in Estonia;
- organise researchers' and PhD students' mobility to collaborating institutes to share experience and increase competence;
- upgrade the technological base and research equipment to increase the capacity of Estonian researchers to participate in international cooperation projects;
- organise scientific conference on space research / technology and disseminate research results.

Project results:

The main and most important outcome from ESTSPACE project is elaboration of the scientific priorities for Tartu Observatory for the period of 2011-2015, which were introduced to the European and Estonian scientific community, policy makers, media and general public at the end of the project in February 2011.

Global challenges like adaptation with the changing environment, the need for effective use of energy, rapid increase of Earth population with a large variety of cultural differences force countries to look for new and innovative technologies. Space technology has a significant role to play in meeting these challenges.

Space research is widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative fields of science, having priority with regard to the economic growth. Through the collaboration and technology transfer, space researches contribute to the increase of the innovation capacity of entrepreneurs. The development of space science and technology enables space exploration and improves our understanding of the nature of the Universe.

Space activities provide invaluable tools for environmental monitoring and protection, security, crisis management, communication and navigation. Space applications can also provide a significant pull for terrestrial technologies, e.g. advanced intelligent systems. Space inspires the young generation to start careers in science and technology, which is one of the most important factors for sustainable development of the economy.

Background for the scientific goals of Tartu Observatory

In Estonia, the development of space applications and their downstream implementation is seen as the basis for future competitiveness and economic growth. On 22 September 2010, Estonia signed a Plan for European Cooperating State with ESA and approved the first version of the national space strategy.

Having 200 years experience in space research, Tartu Observatory was evaluated with positive credits in each category during the Estonian Science evaluation procedure in May 2010. Tartu Observatory is the leading centre of astronomical research in Estonia, also possessing an internationally acknowledged competence in remote sensing of natural environment. Tartu Observatory research strategy brings together scientific and public goals. This enables to respond to the challenges that modern technology, political situation and economic needs create.

A cohesive strategy for Tartu Observatory space research, corresponding to the Estonian research, development and innovation objectives is a key element to achieve a strong position in the international space research community and enables to meet the Estonian space strategic objectives. Scientific priorities of Tartu Observatory are focused on astronomy, Earth observation and space technology. The strategy is based on a medium-term view and its implementation is focused on scientific excellence on specific topics, identified as the strongest at Tartu Observatory, most relevant for further joint activities in ERA and space community, and with the significant impact to the society.

What are the challenges faced by astronomy?

Astronomy is a science about the nature, evolution and motion of celestial bodies, their systems and the Universe as a whole. While the rapid development of observational facilities and computational power during the last decades have opened new opportunities for sensing and studying the Universe, the biggest challenges for astronomy have expanded far beyond the classical concept of astronomy, and coordinated efforts by astronomers, theoretical physicists, particle physicists and chemists are required to solve them.

We still do not understand the most fundamental factors guiding the fate of our Universe. What are the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, the dominant components of our Universe? What is the origin of gravity? We do not know what the conditions in the early Universe were, allowing for the formation of all the cosmic structures we are now witnessing. On the other hand, the formation and evolution of the basic cosmic objects: galaxies, stars, planets and even the variety of chemical elements and cosmic molecules, is still not clear in many aspects. And finally, how do the complex organic molecules - the bases for life - form in the Universe? Is our green planet unique?

High priority research directions in Astronomy at Tartu Observatory

Questions about the fundamental physics of our Universe
By analysing the large-scale distribution of galaxies, constraints on the properties of dark matter and dark energy can be laid. This work is carried out in large international cooperation with Tuorla Observatory (Finland), Potsdam Astrophysical Institute (Germany) and others. In collaboration with the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics, the results from the Large Hadron Collider experiment at CERN will be combined with cosmological considerations to entangle the issues of dark matter and gravity.

Participating in the ESA Planck mission to map the distribution of the cosmic microwave background radiation, radiated about 300 000 years after the Big Bang and thus tracing the earliest structures in the Universe.

Usage of modern observational facilities for the research of stellar physics and galaxy physics
Together with international partners, algorithms are elaborated for studying peculiar stars and the structure of our Milky Way galaxy in the framework of the ESA Gaia mission, measuring the accurate coordinates and velocities of about 1 billion stars.

Study of late evolutionary stages of stars, the properties of stellar populations and the structure of galaxies with modern ground-based telescopes. The goal of joining the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has been set and cooperation with the Canary Institute of Astrophysics is being developed to promote these studies. Besides, high priority is given to modernization of the local 1,5-metre telescope, making it more efficient for observer training and support observations.

What are the challenges faced by Earth observation?

Earth observation is the gathering of information about physical, chemical and biological systems of our planet. Effects of the variations in the solar radiation and its spectral composition related to different environmental, biospheric, and health aspects as well as to atmospheric photochemistry are not well understood yet.

Studies about the Earth have revolutionised thanks to the observations uniquely available from satellites. Images of the changing planet are improving the understanding of the Earth's dynamic processes and helping the society to manage limited resources. Earth observation has become technologically more and more sophisticated - the number of satellites increases, the spectral range of passive and active sensors is extended from ultraviolet (UV) to microwave and spatial resolution is diminished to centimetres.

New challenges are now focused on linking optical signatures not only with objects, but also with processes, combing information from different sources into a system and distributing it via various services. EU and ESA are jointly developing the programme GMES, which is the European input to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

High priority research directions in Earth observation at Tartu Observatory

Development of high spatial resolution reflectance models for forests based on detailed three-dimensional (3D) structure and optical data to meet the needs of the new generation high resolution scanner systems. Inclusion of laser scanning and high-resolution stereo imagery into the plant canopy structure description.

Improving methodologies for ground truth measurements needed for the validation of satellite products through surface reflectance spectra over optically complex waters and vegetation.

Improved application of coarse and medium resolution satellite imagery to retrieve environmental parameters by the inclusion of within-pixel information from high-resolution data and national public databases: elaboration of an initial version of remote-sensing-aided forest inventory system in Estonia; derivation of ecological classification of inland waters; demonstration of the practical use of the retrieved parameters and knowledge in the fields of terrestrial and aquatic ecology as well as carbon cycle science.

Studying effects of UV radiation on biospherical objects and artificial materials. Estimation of the variability in factors influencing optical properties of the atmosphere in the Baltic Sea region.

Support the Estonian Environmental Observatory with solar irradiance data collections and analyses in SMEAR and GAW stations.

What are the challenges faced by space technology?

Space technology is related to entering and retrieving information and objects from space. Applications like remote sensing, weather forecast, global navigation systems, satellite television rely heavily on space infrastructure. Modern astronomy and Earth sciences are based on measurements from the space. Because of the growing number of demanding applications there is an urgent need for space exploration to become economically feasible.

On the road to the membership of ESA, Estonia has set its focus towards the high added value industry and economic benefit from the unique and innovative opportunities in the downstream services. We can help to establish better linkages between the user needs and the innovative technology.

High priority research directions in space technology at Tartu Observatory

- To offer multidisciplinary research, development, verification, testing and consultation services in the field of space technology
The space technology section at Tartu Observatory is subdivided into several topics. Earth observation technology benefits from the theoretical knowledge and a long experience in the development of new scientific instrumentation for Earth observation measurements whether from the air, on the ground or on / in the water. In-house developed sophisticated optical instruments for measurement of a variety of quantities useful for remote sensing research provide a solid foundation for the development and verification of new operational downstream services. This is complemented by in-house real-time reception of remote sensing data with our ground station.

- Small satellite instrumentation development and testing
The activity is supported by engagement in several international collaboration projects under FP7, ESA and with the Baltic region.

- Adopt synergistic approach for integration of hardware and software for a higher level in reliability and performance.

- Develop high-accuracy testing, verification and calibration services for space instrumentation, optical instruments and software.

- Set up a dialog with the end users and collaborators to stay on the leading edge of space technology development
We especially focus on cooperation with the private sector for meeting the public sector request for technological achievements, services, education and consultancies.

Potential impact:

The most important project impacts were increased international collaboration, extended sources of financing, arisen awareness, new ideas and information about European space research and technology as well as acknowledgment of the Estonian Space research and technology capacity by ESA and other scientific partners.

1. Increased international collaboration, new updated research infrastructure and complementary competence of researchers has led to the broadened research topics - studies in the modern physics of astroparticles, applications for water remote sensing, development of specific space technology. Twinning workgroups and collaboration has been formed with key partners in excellent research and industry partners in Europe (list below) and via international networks for example Eusaar, Aeronet, NordBaltSat, NorAquaRemS.

2. We have been able to extend sources for financing. ESTSPACE has motivated researchers more actively prepare proposals at highest quality in international level- two new FP7 projects have started: 'Strategic partnership for improved basin-scale water quality parameter retrieval from optical signature' (WATERS) and 'Electric solar sail technology' (ESAIL) and in two more TO participates as end-user: 'Downstream observatory organised by regions active in space' (DORIS_NET) and 'High resolution freshwater monitoring' (FRESHMON). One more - 'Developing a Centre of Interdisciplinary Research of Cosmology at Tartu Observatory' (COSMOTAR) is under evaluation. On the same time synergy on national level in the field of space technology and remote sensing has increased via joint activities.

3. Awareness about space research and technology, new ideas and information about European space research and technology has been distributed on seven workshops and seminars, two summer schools and one large scale space downstream conference 'Boosting the competitiveness of business and science: Satellite services in modern society'. These events have brought together more than 700 researchers, representatives of public authorities and entrepreneurs for internationalisation of the research and technological development (RTD) results and enhancing the scientific understanding of the general public. We have exposed the achievements of the Estonian space research and culture to the ERA participating in more than 70 scientific events.

4. Estonian space research and technology capacity has been acknowledge by ESA and Estonian government. In 2010, the Plan for European Cooperating Sate was signed and 12 cooperation projects start during 2011. Tartu Observatory is carrying out two of them in cooperation with enterprises 'Services based on optical radiometry applications for aquatic environment' and 'Emission line star classification in the Gaia catalogue'. Growing impact to society is ensured with effective participation in the EC-ESA joint initiative: GMES.

List of websites:




Tartu Observatory
Obesrvatooriumi 1, Tõravere
Nõo vald, Tartu County

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