There are white-collar scientists around in high technology, but now there is no Silicon Valley in California.

Vaisala is headquartered in the Vantaa Valley, behind a green field and a river bubbling from summer. The tall orange-brick buildings of the company, which manufactures measurement equipment, systems and software, rise from among pine and detached houses.

An artist’s view of the Perseverance ATV on the surface of Mars.

Photo: Nasa

Vaisala has also manufactured humidity and pressure sensors that will travel on a NASA spaceflight to Mars in two weeks. The Perseverance ATV is scheduled to launch into the sky on July 22nd.

Before the launch shot, however, Mars must return 80 years back to the basement of a private residence in the center of Helsinki.

Vaisala has been operating in Pasila since 1944. The premises moved to Vantaa in 1954.

Photo: Kimmo Penttinen

Lived in 1937.

Professor Vilho Väisälä had just completed a radio sonar that required several technical inventions to study the atmosphere. A few years earlier, he had visited the Karelian coast and found a radio sonar there, which had apparently flown to the scene on a gas balloon from behind the eastern border.

Väisälä eyed the bull and came to the conclusion that he would do better himself.

The first, an order for 20 radio sonar, was shipped to MIT’s top university in the United States. Reputation began to rush internationally when the invention grabbed a gold medal at the Paris World’s Fair. Väisälä founded Vaisala Corporation, which over the years grew into one of the world's most significant companies in its field.

Vaisala has been operating in its current premises in Vantaa since 1954. The company employs about 1,850 people, 60 percent of whom work in Vantaa.

Vaisala manufactures measurement equipment, systems and software for the environment and industry. In short, Vaisala's products measure everything related to the environment: humidity, air pressure and wind, as well as the amount of water, ice and snow. The breakthrough of humidity sensors utilizing new technology took place in the 1970s, and air pressure sensors followed a decade later.

In practice, Vaisala's meters, for example, help determine speed limits on Finnish highways or warn of an impending hurricane in the Caribbean. At airports, gauges indicate which runway and how often an aircraft is allowed to land.

"More than half of the world's international airport weather systems are supplied by us," says Samuli Hänninen, Senior Vice President, Product Development, Weather and Environment.

Samuli Hänninen, Director of Product Development for Weather and Environmental Transportation, believes that curiosity and perseverance will go a long way. The white ball on the roof is a weather radar.

Photo: Kimmo Penttinen

All product steps, from ideation to inventions and from prototyping to manufacturing, are done in Vantaa. It is a competitive advantage in the international market, but it also requires precision both at the various stages of the process and in the finished product.

The thorough accuracy of the meters can be illustrated by a topical issue. When a person sneezes, several tiny droplets fly from their mouths.

However, only a millionth of the volume of one drop is enough.

"From such a small part, the humidity sensor can measure the amount of water," says Hänninen.

Indeed, the extreme demands lead back to Mars, whose conditions place strict conditions on technology.

The atmosphere of the red planet's carbon dioxide is cold, dry, and about a hundred times less frequent than the Earth's atmosphere. In harsh environments, the sensors must be accurate and can withstand, for example, radiation, vibration, and temperature and barometric pressure fluctuations.

In addition, the equipment must operate reliably, as it is not possible to repair the equipment along the way.

“It’s exactly the same kind of maintenance contract we have,” Hänninen laughs.

Vaisala has clean room facilities where sensor production takes place. Pressure and humidity sensors are used in a variety of measurement applications, such as weather stations, radiosondes, and greenhouses. On Mars, their job is to gather information about the planet’s atmosphere by measuring humidity and pressure.

Manufacturing a sensor requires many steps.

Photo: Kimmo Penttinen

Both sensors are only about an inch in diameter. The small size of the gauges is not only a practical condition in a Mars ATV but also a sensible solution from a manufacturing point of view. The larger the product, the more difficult it is to ensure the uniformity and accuracy of the sensor.

It took about four months to make the space sensors. The products have a long history of development, so there was no need to reinvent the wheel, but the sensors were only improved for space travel. It took the most time to ensure the process was error-free.

Vaisala's technology has been involved in NASA's spaceflight almost from the beginning. Among other things, the sensors have helped to explore Saturn's Titan Moon and were thus involved in the first-ever descent to the surface of the outer solar system.

Nassa's previous Mars ATV, Curiosity, found traces of water on Mars in 2015. The pressure and humidity sensors delivered to the Perseverance ATV, Sisu in Finnish, are of the same type as those delivered to its predecessor.

From Vantaa, the sensors first traveled to Helsinki to the Finnish Meteorological Institute for the development of measuring instruments. From there, they continued their journey to Spain, where they were included as part of a larger Meda equipment package. The starting shot is shot in Florida in the United States. Sisu is expected to reach its destination in February next year and is set to study the surface of Mars for at least more than a year.

From Vaisala's windows you can see different types of weather stations on the edge of the field. The air quality meter was made and tested in Finland and then exported to Beijing. The meters did not work there, because in Finland the air was much cleaner. Since then, test points have been set up around the world.

Photo: Kimmo Penttinen

The sensors were delivered well in advance two years ago. At Vaisala, the only tension is whether Sisu will be able to leave on time. In the worst case, the weather can delay the departure.

“Someone has sometimes decided to locate space centers in Florida, where it flashes more than anywhere else in America,” says Samuli Hänninen.

On the other hand, Vaisala has the world's only global flash network. It will allow the company to monitor whether imminent thunderstorms are approaching Florida in July.

Delivering technology for space exploration is only a small part of Vaisala's operations. It has little effect on net sales.

“If at some point we start visiting Mars like Estonia, then it will start to matter,” says Kaisa Säde, director of instrument and sensor factories.

However, space projects are an important source of enthusiasm. For some, they even act as a motivator for working in the company. Vaisala is curiously following all stages of space travel.

Kaisa Säde, director of instrument and sensor factories, considers space projects to be important sources of inspiration.

Photo: Kimmo Penttinen

Of course, acting as Nasa's partner also offers the company a certain type of recommendation that attracts customers. Once the humidity and pressure sensors have traveled through space, no one then asks if they will now withstand for sure.

“If the sensors last on Mars, they will last anywhere,” says Radius.

According to Nasa, the primary task of the Sisu ATV is to search Mars for signs of ancient life and to collect rock and soil samples for a possible return to Earth.

Basically, it’s probably a desire to find out if a person could live on Mars. The settlement of a desert planet has fascinated scientists for decades, and some see it as possible for the rest of our generations. Space tourism has also gained momentum in recent years, although the pandemic has also hit it and slowed down the progress of projects.

One square of the disc is one sensor.

Photo: Kimmo Penttinen

On the other hand, exploring Mars can also help learn something new about our own planet. Similar features of Mars and Earth, such as the same angle of inclination of the axis of rotation and the equal length of the day, cause the planetary atmospheres to behave in the same way.

It is no coincidence that Finland is producing state-of-the-art technology for space research. According to Samuli Hänninen, there is scientific and technical know-how here that is valued internationally. There is also close co-operation between companies and universities, which makes it easier to meet the worlds of business and science.

“We have world-class experts and respected researchers. Our position in the market is the result of long-term investment and research. ”

Finland is also a world leader in the field of climate research. In Hänninen's opinion, it is not necessary to be in Silicon Valley, California, in order to be part of a significant technological and research development.

Vantaa, in the middle of fields and detached houses, can equally be at the heart of high technology.

“Curiosity is universal. It doesn't matter if you sit in Vantaa, London or New York, it connects people and drives them forward. ”

The countdown to finding a new one can begin.