Small Business Column: Ireland's Space Industry

As an Irish-led space mission is due to come to fruition in 2016, Kehlan Kirwan this week looks at Ireland and how we are steadily creating a reputation in the space industry.    

In February 1990 the Voyager space probe was hurtling out of our solar system. It had wound its way around our tiny part of the galaxy, sling-shotting from one place to another. It had taken some of the most iconic photos of our neighbouring planets and helped to change perceptions of our surrounds. It had, however, one last picture to take.

Scientists turned the camera around and pointed it toward earth one last time. It turned toward home and there we were. Through the vastness of space and the light of the sun you could see us. A little speck of a blue dot, less than the size of a pixel in the photo. It was awe-inspiring and terrifying all at the same time.

In our tiny part of the world we too are thinking of the stars and space. In the past decade Ireland has laid the groundwork for an impressive future in the space industry.

Recently at Star-B-Q, a barbecue under the stars with astronomy talks, something special happened. Professor Susan McKenna-Lawlor announced the long-awaited name of Ireland’s first space mission. Cumar would be the name recorded in the history books. Space weather and how it works would be the mission remit.

But the mission itself is the culmination of Ireland’s past and future within the space industry. From William Rowen Hamilton in the mid-1800s to Irish companies developing and creating components for space missions nowadays, we’ve been influencing ideas of space for centuries.

On Friday Keren Jackson, CEO of BlueFire in Dublin, was shortlisted for a space flight on the Kruger Cowne Rising Star programme. A trip into space beckons should she be chosen from the last 30 applicants whittled down.

Enbio, a Tipperary-based company, recently announced 12 new jobs at its newly opened €1.5m space technology centre in Clonmel. The European Space Agency (ESA) has backed the new facility. Enbio in effect creates sunscreen for technologies in space such as satellites and spacecraft. Its innovation was one of the fastest adopted pieces of hardware taken up by the ESA. It set new records for getting a technology from concept to flight qualified.

Earlier this year the Irish Software Research Centre (LERO), based in Limerick, won its third contract from the ESA. The injection of money will mean more PhD students and academic researchers developing the ideas and software needed to develop space technology and vital computer technologies which have no margin for error.

Arralis, also based in Limerick, has won a contract from the UK’s Ministry of Defence for a GPS system which taps in to multiple satellites in order to track the location of a device down to the millimetre. The device also has possible ramifications for unmanned landings and the collection of space debris.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ireland’s pedigree in the space industry.

We are creating the technologies of the future and doing it more and more. Ireland’s mission to space, mooted to be set for the latter end of 2016, isn’t setting a narrow scope for itself.

The people behind it want contributions from engineering students to school kids and even musicians; an all-Ireland space mission. Space is not simply for the rocket scientists, it’s for everyone.

Far from where you read this there is a message sitting on the surface of the moon which finishes with the words “…we came in peace for all mankind”.

That’s a big feat for a small country, on a tiny blue speck less than a pixel in size.


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