First Irish satellite one giant leap closer to space odyssey

First Irish satellite one giant leap closer to space odyssey
Minister John Halligan examines a model of EIRSAT-1 with PhD students Joe Thompson and Maeve Doyle. Picture: Colm Mahady

By Dan Buckley

No bigger than a shoebox but with outsize potential, Ireland’s first satellite has made a giant leap in its development after successfully completing the first phase of a European Space Agency (ESA) review.

EIRSAT-1, a miniature satellite, or CubeSat, is designed by a team of University College Dublin (UCD) students who will now move to the next phase of assembling and testing a prototype suitable for launch.

The announcement was made yesterday as minister for training, skills, innovation, research and development, John Halligan, met the 16 members of the team during a visit to UCD.

“CubeSats such as EIRSAT-1 are disrupting the traditional space sector globally, providing a fast and cost effective route to gaining spaceflight heritage,” said Professor Lorraine Hanlon, UCD School of Physics and EIRSAT-1 project leader.

“As an emerging space nation, Ireland’s future space endeavours will benefit from the skills developed by the talented team of UCD students who are building EIRSAT-1.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD vice-president for research, innovation and impact, said: “A key objective of the EIRSAT-1 mission is through its success to inspire the next generation of students to study STEM subjects.

“The skills base and the research and development agenda are closely aligned, and both need continuing investment by Government to ensure that Ireland can maximise its return from global opportunities in the space sector.”

EIRSAT-1 will carry three scientific experiments on board, developed in collaboration with industry partners like Irish companies ENBIO and SensL.

They include a gamma-ray detector and an in-flight demonstration of thermal control coatings developed by ENBIO. The third, called Wave-Based Control, or WBC, tests an algorithm to control the movement of the satellite.

The prototype will now be built and tested in new clean rooms on the university’s campus and if it passes subsequent reviews, it will be delivered to ESA in mid-2020.

Once launched, it will stay in space for between six and 12 months and communicate data to Earth via a ground radio station, located at mission control in UCD.

Lána Salmon, a PhD student in the UCD School of Physics, described the project as a ground-breaking opportunity for Irish students to gain experience in the space industry.

“Students in Ireland, like myself, are for the first time getting the opportunity to contribute to satellite development,” she said. “I did not expect to be involved in such an exciting Irish project so early in my career.”

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