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Sunday, 12 November 2017

My Week in Estonia!

Tere ja Tere tulemast! That's Estonian for hello and welcome! Last week, I had the honour of being in the beautiful city of Tallinn, for European Space Week, and I'd like to share all about it now!

European Space Week is an event aimed at bringing together the most important European space stakeholders, companies, and visionaries, and is also meant to provide visibility into the Copernicus and Galileo Earth Observation space programs.

This year's event was held in Tallinn, Estonia, which was doubly appropriate due to Estonia more recently joining the EU, and the spirit of entrepreneurship in the local area.

Organizers from the event asked Northern Sky Research to come and speak on a panel regarding the Economies of the Space Sector, and I was fortunate enough to be available to attend!

I had never before been to Estonia, nor to European Space Week, so I was excited for the opportunity. The journey there was easy and pleasant enough, hopping by plane from Strasbourg and Amsterdam. While flying can be a nuisance, it felt good to be more familiar with certain airports, and I reflected on the continuing journey of my career, so far upward, allowing me to take trips such as this one.

Checking into my hotel was another nice reminder of how well things were going. The Ministry organizing the event had reserved me a room on the 14th floor, and the room was both massive and well-furnished! Honestly, it was the nicest hotel room I had ever been in and I was very happy to start the week.

Not long after, I met with a friend of my colleague, a fellow ISU alum named Mart, who took me for a driving tour around the city. 

Estonia is an interesting country. Situated between Finland, Latvia, and Russia, the country's language, culture, and architecture is an interesting combination of the surrounding regions. Tallinn itself is a small city, situated by the water, and segregated by levels of architecture. We made it to the top of the old town, and from there, we could see much of the surrounding city.

Since it was dark, I could not take any good photos, but please enjoy these from Juliette, when she visited her cousin studying in Finland, and took a ferry across the water to Tallinn!

The nearby buildings below were of an older design, dating around the 12th century, and the farthest buildings, closer to the city centre, were modern, tall, and sprawling.

While we were looking out over the city, discussing the sight, two young men came up to us. They were lost and couldn't find their tour group. They had a tiny slip of paper and asked if we could call the number printed on it. While Mart did that, I tried to find out a little more. Seems they were from Belarus, on a high school trip, only in Tallinn for the evening. They had been given a half hour to explore freely, and were now lost. I felt bad for them, but also concerned. They had no idea where they were, it was dark, and they had no address or identifiable meeting place. No one was answering their number, and when they mentioned a pink building, I suggested the city hall, which I had noticed was a pink building on the way up. In my friendliest manner, I told the boys that we were driving back down, and we could take them. Mart said buses often parked at the bottom of the hill, since the old town was full of narrow, cobblestone streets. I could tell they were unsure about riding in a van with strangers, but I really didn't want them to continue to wander around, lost.

At the bottom of the hill, none of the local buses were familiar to them, so they thanked us and began to leave. I insisted they took my phone number, and not too long down the street, they took off running, seeming to recognize something, hopefully their bus. I checked all my belongings, wondering if the entire thing had been a ruse, a deception, but all was well. I shook my head. I understand being young, but to be in a completely different country and not have the basic tools and information needed to find your way around, well, I've never been that young.

Afterward, we went out for dinner at a lovely restaurant by the water. The building was curved, bowed like a boat, and the menu was full of pork, salmon, and potatoes. Turns out the local cuisine is similar to my own!     

The next morning, I had some time before the start of the conference to take some lovely pictures. The view from my room was fantastic, mirroring that I saw the night before.

See the Moon?

Snapped this on my way to the conference
The next few days were a bustle of activity. Many of the panels and sessions concerned the Copernicus program, Europe's leading Earth Observation program. For some information, there are generally three types of program devoted to collecting satellite imagery of the Earth. There are commercial programs, government programs, and of course, military programs. As noted in my last blog post, I have recently completed NSR's Earth Observation report, which looked at the global commercial opportunity. Copernicus is the European governmental program, featuring a suite of satellites, and a series of platforms devoted to delivering the imagery to companies and organizations within Europe. It is a massive undertaking, coordinating that effort, and much of the conference was about promoting use of those platforms through business accelerators, competitions, training programs, and entrepreneurial support. It was a good opportunity for me to learn more about key specifics of the European industry, and network with those within it. 

Tuesday night's main event was an award ceremony for the Copernicus Masters, a competition aimed at developing new applications for the Copernicus program, ways to use the imagery in new and, hopefully, financially viable ways. It was a very fancy affair, taking place in the Lennusadam Seaplane Museum. The venue was large, lovely, and dark. There were aquariums on the wall, and a submarine in the centre of the room! Click here for pictures!

The entire thing played out like the Academy Awards, but for Earth Observation companies, and the food and entertainment afterward were very enjoyable.

Thursday was the busiest day for me, the day of my panel. Titled, The Economies of the Space Sector, it was a good opportunity to talk more about the financial drivers and obstacles in the industry. Much of the earlier part of the week was dedicated to the technological capabilities of Earth Observation, but little had been spoken of in previous panels about how to make it out of the lab and into the industry.

The panel went very well! Excellent points and ideas were bounced back and forth, and many people were interested in hearing my NSR insights. The event was well-covered by social media, and I had several tweets linked to me concerning my points, such as here and here. In addition, the event photographer, and social media coordinator for the event, shared their pictures of me, so, here they are!

Anyone else think I look slightly afraid here?

This reminded me of something...if only...
It felt good to address the audience, answer their questions, and afterward, I had many people come up to me with follow-up questions. The moderator was quite proficient, balancing the time between the 5 panelists, keeping things interesting and relevant.

Afterward, I recorded a short interview with Mart. He had been collecting news on the event for an Estonian space news website and wanted me to speak about the past week. Once he uploads it, I'll share that on Facebook/Twitter, so keep your eyes open! 

Later that day, I was asked to do a podcast! Two young men, entrepreneurs from Berlin, wanted to know more about me, my experience, NSR, and my thoughts on the European space industry. It was a fun, friendly session, and we spoke on everything from satellite manufacture and launch, to Earth observation and space exploration. Again, once it's published, I'll share the link! 

Personally, the panel, interview, and podcast were very good for my confidence. I had several people tell me that I was very interesting and that they could speak with me forever, and it felt nice to receive such blatant compliments. I have been working hard for a long time to improve my communication and presentation skills, and it was rewarding to see that work come together.

Once the week was over, I took my leave, flying back to Strasbourg, tired but feeling great! It was an excellent opportunity for NSR, and I have several contacts with whom to follow up in the coming days. It was a well-organized event, one I hope to attend next year, and I was proud to represent my company and help fill in the gaps between technology and business, a role I'm becoming more proficient in every day.

Tallinn was a beautiful city, and I was sad not to have had a better chance to explore it. Should you wish to explore it a little more, virtually, I suggest you check out Tara Foster's blog post. Sadly, she left as I was arriving, so I didn't have a chance to catch up with her, but her post takes you on a more personal tour of the city.

And that concludes this adventure! I hope to take the time to go back to the area, maybe make it up to Finland. One of my reasons for choosing Strasbourg was the opportunity to explore most of Europe, so when my next adventure comes, I'll be sure to share it with you here!

Closing off, I just want to thank you all very much for reading, should you have any questions, pass them my way, or leave a comment below. I know that the news has not been very positive lately, but try to remember that each of us can make a difference, and there is more to this world than what you see on the North American news.

Stay awesome and I'll see you next time!

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