Enjoying Google Maps? Thank this Estonian company

13.03.2017

When you think of Estonia, the first image that comes to mind is not usually “outer space”. Nevertheless, perhaps this is the case, as CGI Estonia played a key part in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) mission to enable the Galileo navigation system to become operational.

The Galileo navigation system that is the European alternative for a Global Positioning System (GPS), is no small-scale project, consisting of about 20 satellites and the potential to provide navigation solutions for billions of people worldwide. As such, it is remarkable that a small nation like Estonia has played such an integral part in developing the Galileo navigation system.

Thanks to the presence of CGI in other countries, the Estonian division won the opportunity, in 2014, to start working with the ESA. Estonia earned its place because CGI Estonia had been working with the ESA previously but at that time, the CGI Estonian objective was to learn more about the space industry; the first full-scale Estonian project was accepted in 2014.

Estonia’s project was to design the software solution used for mission planning purposes. The development and maintenance of the Estonian mission control software is ongoing and will continue to be so until all the satellites have been launched. At that time the Estonian focus will be on regular updates and maintenance, to ensure that the European Space Agency’s system works flawlessly.

Why pick Estonia to satisfy your space-related needs?

So, it might seem unusual that such a huge organization like ESA selected an Estonian company to take care of such an important component of a remarkably large-scale European project. Estonia is really not a “space-nation” in the traditional sense of that term, as we have no large-scale space program nor has Estonia sent astronauts into orbit.

So, why would anyone pick a small Nordic nation to undertake this task.

Business manager for CGI Estonia’s space division, Kaarel Hanson, explained that the appeal of Estonian companies is the highly qualified workforce they employ. “Originally, one of the reasons to prefer Estonia was the ratio of cost and quality. Recently the main reason is quality, as prices in different countries in the field have balanced out,” Hanson said.

According to Hanson, the CGI Estonia’s space team has increased substantially to 15 members in the last six years and in Estonia, the field CGI is working in, is unique. As a result the Estonian CGI team continues to grow.

“Because we have gathered quite a lot of unique knowledge about the space industry, this enables us to compete in the European space market,” said Hanson.

NASA will remain out of reach

So, what’s next in the success story of CGI Estonia? Well, the future is a hard thing to predict but for now there is one certainty. NASA is not in the crosshairs of CGI and work can only continue with the European Space Agency.

The reason behind that, as explained by Hanson, is simple. Working with NASA would be difficult for Estonian companies, owing to the physical distance between the two. To succeed in the space industry, the right contacts and good relations are vital. Both are hard to establish and to maintain with such a physical distance between the parties.

So, for now at least, CGI will continue working with ESA, and luckily there is still plenty to do in Europe.

CGI will continue to work with ESA on the Galileo project but the company has also signed a contract with ESA to develop new solutions that will speed up image processing from the Sentinel-1 spacecraft.

Cubicle, but in space

Interestingly, if you look hard enough, you can find at least one more space related organization in Estonia, cleverly named ESTCube. It has already launched the first and so far, the only cube-shaped satellite for Estonia, dubbed ESTCube-1, into orbit and is preparing to send another, dubbed ESTCube-2.

In addition to the above, ESTCube too is working with ESA on various projects.