1810 marks the beginning of Estonian space history. On that year, the first observatory was opened in Tartu. This was the beginning of the long history of space exploration.
In 1824, Tartu observatory received a 9-inch refractor telescope – the biggest and most modern in the world at the time.
In 1837, the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (1793-1864) became the first scientist in the world to measure the distance of the stars, while working in Tartu.
In 1885, the German astronomer Carl Ernst Albrecht Hartwig (1851-1923) discovered the first supernova outside of the Milky Way galaxy all the way in the Andromeda nebula in Tartu Observatory.
The foundations for Estonian Astronomy were laid out by one of the renowned local astrophysicists – Ernst Julius Öpik (1893-1985). Öpik, who was involved in a wide variety of research fields, wrote himself into history by being the first to determine the distance of the Andromeda nebula from the Earth in 1918, and provided substantial evidence for the galaxies existing beyond the Milky Way.
Even though initially an American astronomer called Edwin Hubble had taken all the glory for the same discovery, it was later clarified that Öpik had beat him with the discovery by a few years. In addition, it was Ernst Öpik, along with the Dutch astronomer Jan Hedrik Oort, who discovered the spherical asteroid cloud surrounding our Solar system – named after them as the Öpik-Oort Cloud.
In 1967-1972, Põltsamaa became known for producing a wide variety of tube-food used for Soviet cosmonauts in massive quantities. Cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastyanov paid a personal visit to the factory to show his gratitude for these tasty meals.
Estonian astrophysicist Jaan Einasto (born 1929) was the first to discover the dark matter and the honeycomb structure of the universe.
In 1970-1990, the Soviet orbital space station Salyut was fitted with the tele-radiometer Micron, and the orbital space station Mir was fitted with the tele-spectrometer FAZA. Both were made in Tartu.
After regaining independence in 1991, Estonian scientists have actively participated in the ESA project, developing the space telescope Gaia. In addition, the Estonian company Vertex Estonia has been producing satellite communication antennas for ESA as well as various radio telescopes around the world.