Hello, Space! – Interview with spacecraft design student Siiri Talvistu

Siiri is a 26 year old Estonian who started her studies in Spacecraft design last year. As of now she is also working on a REXUS program which gives students the opportunity to work on  real technological experiments on rockets and balloons.


Tell us what is your story? 

As a kid my ambitions on who to become when I grow up ranged from a medical doctor to a zookeeper. I didn’t have a plan until i started to study telecommunications in my local technical university since it seemed to be the coolest bachelors program under the IT faculty. I took off a year to just work and figure out where to go next and eventually found that there is a program called Spacecraft Design and it was free to study. I applied without thinking about it and then realised that i signed myself up to live in the Arctic Circle, far Northern Sweden.  Plus I remember in high-school sitting in math class thinking that i will never need that and barely squeezed points from the subject to pass. How wrong i was – further on followed nearly 4 years of math studies.

How did you first become interested in space science? How did you start thinking of a career such as spacecraft design?

Space science has always been interesting and during my telecommunications studies i only dared to think that maybe i might be able to be part of a satellite program, but it felt far-fetched. Yet now it feels more real than ever and this is what they actually expect from the graduates.

What were some of your expectations before you started your studies in spacecraft design?

eh… I didn’t expect much – just a lot of mechanics and analysis to different space missions, and i didn’t have to disappoint to that end.

What fascinates you most about space (What solar system destination are you still most excited/eager for humans to still go explore?) ?

When I think about space it’s mostly about how little we know about it and how unimaginably large it is when you start going past our solar system, our Milky way galaxy. Space nature is amazing. There is such a large variety of planets, moons, stars, nebulae etc. It’s fascinating and yet scary at the same time – are there just a bunch of dust and rocks floating about or is there a spectacular space invasion/battle happening right now millions of light years away? Could be both. We don’t know yet!


Tell us more about your project REXUS/BEXUS. What have been the greatest challenges your team has faced? 

The REXUS/BEXUS programme allows students from universities and higher education colleges across Europe to carry out scientific and technological experiments on research rockets and balloons. Each year, two rockets and two balloons are launched, carrying up to 20 experiments designed and built by student teams. Our REXUS team is BESPIN – it is a student project from Luleå University of Technology for the Rocket Experiments for University Students (REXUS) project  realised under a bilateral Agency Agreement between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB). The sponsors include ESA (European Space Agency), SSC, ZARM Mobile Rocket Base (MORABA). The aim of the BESPIN project is to design and test an engineering proof of concept for deploying a balloon from a rocket. The goal is to achieve initial flotation of the balloon before slow controlled descent. The launch of the experiment is planned to be during March 2019 from Esrange Space Center in Kiruna. (The experiment is very similar to the Soviet space probe Vega 1 and Vega 2 in 1986 that were meant to float above Venus and do measurements without landing.)

The team is at the beginning of the project at the moment so there isn’t a lot of obstacles happening just yet, besides just having to work together to create a proper 100-page document. Two weeks of working finally paid off and we got accepted. The journey to launching our experiment has just begun and you can follow our progress on facebook (facebook.com/REXUSBESPIN ) or instagram (instagram.com/rexusbespin ).

Where do you see yourself after your studies?

I’m almost halfway in my space studies and am just now starting to grasp the possibilities in space industry. Currently continuing in the telecommunications line as an engineer or researcher in the space industry is in the horizon.

What do you think of new private aerospace manufacturers like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab?

The exploration of space is in our nature and commercialization of space proves that. The growing investment to private companies gives another good boost to carry on research and space exploration. For example the 2027 Mars One mission wants to bypass bureaucracy and give people the chance to fly to Mars, or the Prospector 1 mission by Deep Space Industries to initiate world’s first interplanetary mining.

Did you watch the  Falcon Heavy launch 6th of February?

Yes, I did watch it. I have watched so many previous launches and when Falcon Heavy launch got delayed on February 6th by a few hours again and again we (fellow students) got more and more anxious about it. At least we saw the Falcon Heavy dispose the world’s most interesting space debris.

What advice would you give somebody who wants to start studies in spacecraft design?

The space industry is such a wide field – if you like space, this is already enough. People study thoroughly very narrow topics and this is crucial to have a proper team of experts who are skilled/competent in the topic they are passionate about, be it space debris, space optics, geophysics, antenna design etc.


What do you think is the next big thing for space science?

The question: ‘is there life outside Earth?’ remains the most fascinating and persistent one. Scientists are looking for any kind of bacteria lurking about on Europa (Jupiter’s moon), Enceladus (Saturn’s moon), asteroids, even outside our spacecrafts. There are doubts but tests on Earth might suggest potential of alien life forms being able to survive there. Even if they are just microscopic. Another big vision is to have people living on the moon. NASA claimed to schedule a mission to build a base on the Moon to house 10 people which could be expanded to have more than 100 people in a decade.  Like St. Petersburg was built to be a window to Europe, a lunar base would serve as a window to space.

What do you think of Estonian Space studies? ( TTU-Mektory recently announced that they will send a satellite to space in the end of this year or in the start of next year)

I’m very happy that Estonia is now part of the “spacegang” and continues to show interest in the space industry – there is definitely a lot of topics and indulging in these would be very beneficial for the country and prosperity of space science. I hope this project will expand from just being a university project, giving an incentive to introduce completely new full-scale courses for students and also spark ideas to create start-ups that tackle the problems of cosmos for humankind. Be it pharmaceutical development to conduct medical research, since micro-gravity has a potential to manufacture superior and more effective medicine and address the ongoing littering in space and working on sending spacecrafts to collect non-functional satellites (so called “space debris”) that pose a risk in colliding with the ones we need and use.

Ann Aro

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