KvarkenSat Pohjoismaiden yllä havainnekuva

The utilisation of space data bringing new opportunities to Kvarken – University of Vaasa becomes a major player in the new space economy

Riikka Kalmi
The Nordic KvarkenSpaceEco project, led by the University of Vaasa, has brought the Kvarken region into a new space age. Sustainable space economy and space-based data are now offering exciting business opportunities for companies in the region.

The project has been promoting the utilisation and commercialisation of space data in the Kvarken region. Major steps have been taken: a long-lasting innovation centre called theKvarken Space Center, a space data portal and ground stations and a new cube satellite, KvarkenSat. At the same time, the University of Vaasa has become a nationally and internationally recognised expert in space economy research and in the use of space-based data.

– Through this significant Nordic project, we have joined the ranks of space data utilisers. Our expertise in the use of satellite and space data has grown. We are particularly good at turning space-based data into business. We have become a significant player with a clear area of expertise in the new space economy and space-related business, says Professor Heidi Kuusniemi, who leads the project and is also the director of the Digital Economy research platform at the University of Vaasa.

Kuusniemi reveals that a proposal for a new project called Boosting Space Business, which would continue the work of KvarkenSpaceEco, is already underway. Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian universities would help to create new businesses and services through research and development in space economics, space technology and space data use.

In addition, the University of Vaasa has several other projects related to space data, such as positioning and precision positioning, imaging and economic forecasting.

New innovations, products, and services from space-based data

Space data is obtained from satellites orbiting the Earth. For example, satellite positioning data helps with location determination, navigation and accurate timing. Satellite remote sensing provides images of the Earth: its oceans, fields and forests. Satellite telecommunication extends to areas where there are no other telecommunication networks.

New space data can be used for applications such as transport and logistics, monitoring water quality, air quality, and the environment, forecasting weather, solar and wind energy, optimising farming and forestry and monitoring critical infrastructure.

An increasing number of small commercial satellites, or cubesats, are being launched into space. In addition, the European Commission's Galileo and Copernicus programmes are providing a wide range of open space data. This data can be used to develop new innovations, applications, services and products.

– Space data is not just rocket science. It's about data transmission and sensors. But the use of space data in many areas of society is still in its infancy, says Professor Heidi Kuusniemi.

The Kvarken Space Center is intended to serve as a long-term innovation hub for the new space economy, helping companies on both sides of Kvarken to develop business opportunities and use the available space data.

The project has used available space technology and know-how such as products from the EU, the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, Iceye, and, for the benefit of businesses and other stakeholders in the region.


Ecosystem still being built – new start-ups launched

In order to strengthen the space economy in the Kvarken region, the project wants to identify and establish a space economy innovation ecosystem there. The researchers have held workshops and demonstrations for companies on how to implement space projects and exploit space-based data. The center has also supported local companies in developing their own space-based projects.

Kuusniemi says that the ecosystem is still under development and will continue in future projects. The project has involved 29 companies in the region, and business models with companies are being further developed. Additionally, three new start-ups have been created during the project.

– All the start-ups created are linked to NASA's International Space Apps Challenge hackathons, which have been held in Vaasa several times. The events, organised by the University of Vaasa in collaboration with Design Centre Muova (VAMK), are part of NASA's annual global hackathon weekends. They have also proven to be a useful and effective way to start a business with readily available support material and networking opportunities.

KvarkenSat satellite to be finalised in Kiruna, Sweden

During the project, satellite ground stations were installed on the roofs of the Fabriikki and Frami buildings in Vaasa and Seinäjoki. A space data portal was created for companies, researchers, students and other stakeholders in society, providing data from receivers and open space-data sources.

– We wanted to provide a user-friendly portal focusing on data and tools. Technobothnia has a new Space Data Laboratory where activities are expected to continue. The lab will have workstations with real-time data. Tools for analysing satellite images as well as satellite positioning receivers will be available to borrow, for example by researchers and students, says Kuusniemi.

Currently, the ground station on the roof of the university receives data from EUMETSAT's satellite, but it is hoped that, by next year at the latest, data will also be received from the KvarkenSat satellite.

KvarkenSat is a cubesat to be registered to the University of Vaasa. It has been developed in collaboration with Finnish and Swedish universities and research institutes. Construction and testing of the KvarkenSat mini-satellite are currently underway at Luleå University of Technology and the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna.

– KvarkenSat will hopefully be launched next year. The satellite will be controlled from the Palosaari campus, Vaasa, and its data will be shared on the Space Data portal and on workstations at the university's Space Data Laboratory.

Last December, it was announced that KvarkenSat had won a free launch into orbit on the second flight of Isar Aerospace Technologies’ Spectrum micro launcher.

Children and young people interested in space

The KvarkenSpaceEco project has not only involved businesses, but has also provided opportunities for children, young people and adults in the region to learn more about satellites and space data. For example, children have been given the opportunity to craft their own cardboard satellites. According to Heidi Kuusniemi, children and young people are captivated by space, making it a useful theme for science education.

– We have concrete things like our own cubesat, as well as a lot of regional significance such as collectively observing the condition of the sea in the Kvarken region between Finland and Sweden. Hopefully, these experiences will inspire children and young people to pursue studies with us here at the University of Vaasa or generally in the fields of science and technology.

The LUMA Centre of Ostrobothnia at the University of Vaasa has taken the lead in space education. It has started organising satellite workshops for children. It will also organise a bilingual Space Adventure Science Club for schoolchildren in June.

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