Become a game changer – Aim high

Lots of kids dream of spaceships and remote planets, but for a rare few that sci-fi fantasy can become reality. Students on Aalto University’s Electrical Engineering and Automation programme reach for the stars with their Aalto-3 Satellite project.

Ten people are crammed into a tiny room in Otaniemi, their gazes fixed on a computer screen. Students and teachers involved in Aalto University’s satellite project expectantly wait for the first pieces of data to arrive from space. “The moment when we saw something on the screen was amazing! There it was, in space, working as it should”, enthuses Samuli Nyman. “First we received housekeeping data, temperature and things like that, so we could check everything was okay with the satellite”, Tessa Nikander continues. 

Launched into orbit on Midsummer Eve in 2017, Aalto-1 is the first Finnish satellite. Since 2010, the satellite project has involved more than 200 people from Aalto University. Samuli and Tessa, students at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Automation, are currently working on the newly christened Aalto-3 satellite in a team of 30 students. Aalto-3 is supposed to be launched in 2019. 

Working with satellites is a dream-come-true for the devoted students. Tessa was interested in space tech already from a young age, hoping to become an engineer one day. Also Samuli admits to having been something of a “space nerd” since childhood. “I built all kinds of small robots on my own, such as an application that opens the curtains. My parents were okay with that, as long as I didn’t burn down the house”, he sniggers. 

Samuli is glad he played around with software already as a teenager, which comes in handy now in his studies. He has learnt that if something doesn’t work the first time, finally it will, if you keep on trying. “Being an engineer is the best thing to be, if you want to do a little bit of everything. The satellite project offers so many possibilities other than building the system itself. There’s marketing, project management, social media, quality management and so on.” 

Samuli and Tessa may continue to build their careers in the field of space technology, but it’s not the only option. What they learn with satellites can be used in many other fields, too. However, what is certain is that they plan to stay firmly on planet Earth. “I think space travel would be boring”, Samuli reflects. “And robots are more useful in space than humans. Humans are too fragile”, smirks Tessa. 

The satellite project has been lengthy, with no shortage of challenges. Yet the two seem surprised when asked about problems along the way. The satellite builders see problems as an interesting part of the work rather than as obstacles. “Challenges are inbuilt in our work, that’s what engineers do. It doesn’t even feel so much like work, but a hobby. Even when we go to a bar or sauna together, we find ourselves talking about satellites”, Samuli smiles. 

Small accomplishments are the most rewarding moments of the project. According to the students, the best part of the work is to see progress, some small part of the project that works. Samuli says: “You have to have big goals and believe in what you do, otherwise you’ll get bored and what fun is that.”

Become a game changer. Find your own bachelor's programme (in Finnish) and apply to Aalto University 14 – 28 March 2018.