Come to think of it – In hibernation mode

Delta and Delft Integraal/Outlook often write about innovative ideas that offer big promises for the future. But what has happened to such ideas years later? What for instance has happened to the Sino-Dutch satellite program.

Delta, January 2008:

‘What makes this program so special is that this is the first time that microsatellites will be flying in formation.’ 

TU Delft and the Chinese University of Tsinghua are set to make a major contribution to the climate debate thanks to a joint satellite programme,’ a press release from the faculty of Aerospace Engineering proclaimed in January 2008.

The message continued, saying that in 2011 at latest the two universities planned to send two microsatellites – one built by each university – into orbit around the Earth in a joint formation. ‘The two satellites will monitor fixed and liquid particles present in the atmosphere […]. The combination of these measurements will provide fresh insight into the influence of air pollution on climate change.’

So are the satellites all set to go? Unfortunately not. “The satellite project is in hibernation mode,” says Professor Eberhard Gill (AE). “We faced quite some funding difficulties.”

The press release left little doubt about the project, yet indeed there was no mention of where the money was coming from. Moreover, Delta also failed to ask this question. As it now turns out, it was never clear who would pay for the project. “There was no money,” says former project leader, Daan Maessen. “We decided to generate a lot of publicity about our willingness to collaborate in order to get the funding.”

According to Maessen, some industrial companies and research institutes showed interest, including the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) and TNO. “But they were all waiting for one another to invest first; it was the chicken-and-egg problem.” The Chinese were also waiting for the Dutch to get funding and vice versa.

Nevertheless, the first part of the mission – media attention – was accomplished. The journal Space News even wrote an article about concerns that the experiment could lead to improved Chinese military space capabilities. “That story was blown out of all proportion,” Maessen says.

Whether the project will ever wake from its hibernation mode is doubtful. “Government funding for space research in the Netherlands has been cut in half,” Maessen adds.

One of the things that made the project so special was that it would have marked the first time that microsatellites had ever flown in formation. But even that honour has now gone to the Swedish Space Cooperation when it launched its two small satellites, Mango (150 kg) and Tango (40 kg), in June of last year.

Huize Wipkolder (Wippolder is the name of a Delft neighbourhood; ‘kolder’ means craziness) is renowned as a ‘Delftsch Huis’ with many traditions, ranging from Christmas dinners to the HJ (house youngest) putting the old paper for recycling out on the sidewalk every Monday night. One tradition that club members, fellow students and parents find most amazing is the fact that there’s no coffee machine in this, the NP38 (Nassauplein 38) student house. For years the coffee has been made using ground coffee beans, filters and hot water. And this coffee is very special because of the love that goes into its making. How this love is precisely added to the coffee by the HO (house oldest) is hard to describe in words. But during the entire coffee-making process, the name Pluto doesn’t go unmentioned. That’s not the house dog’s name (the only pets at NP38 are the mice), but rather a cup that comes from the Pluto ice cream brand. For years Pluto has provided loyal service as the cup that catches the excess coffee from the filter. In this student house, coffee is drunk without milk or sugar (although men and women are allowed to have differing opinions about how tea should be drunk). 
Huize Wipkolder is a close-knit student house, says Wouter Steenstra, one of its nine residents. “Because the nine housemates all follow different studies, belong to different clubs, are of varying ages and genders, the times we’re all at home vary greatly.” One moment during the week when they do all see each other is Sunday nights at café Tango. The #38 Delft Blue tile on the wall marks the spot where the housemates gather to drink to the end of the weekend and start of a new week. When Tango closes, Oude Jan hosts the after-party. The hangovers on Monday morning are then cured with the cups of coffee made with lots of love.

Redacteur Redactie

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