The National Space Centre (NSC) is hoping to reactivate one of the largest antennae in the world, with the possibility it could be used to search for extraterrestrial life.

The NSC has also announced it’s hoping to win a number of contracts for the transmission of information which will allow it to increase its workforce from 14 to 65 in the next three years.

A message is being beamed around the world for potential partners to help reactivate the 32m-wide dish at NSC’s Elfordstown Earthstation, near Midleton, Co Cork. The dish, which weighs 220 tonnes and would cost about €10m to construct today, was built in 1984 to transmit transatlantic telephone calls from Europe to the US.

It was retired from use in the mid-1990s when the underground transatlantic cables were laid, but it still costs the NSC €100,000 per year to maintain.

NSC chief executive Rory Fitzpatrick said while no longer of mainstream commercial interest, the dish was an extremely powerful research tool. Several such dishes around the world have been repurposed and now serve as radio telescopes in either a standalone capacity or as part of large telescope arrays.

“They are put to uses such as exploring celestial objects, eg, galaxies and interstellar clouds; tracking of space debris; extra-terrestrial intelligence searching; outreach and education,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“The aim of this initiative is to repurpose the 32m dish. Our focus is on retaining and putting to good use this piece of Irish and international communications history and we are interested in hearing from any potential partners, national or international.

“It’s probably most useful for radio astronomy or deep space technology. We’re never going to have the money in Ireland again to build another one of these and it’s worth looking after.”

Interested participants are invited to submit a very short project online, and at that stage NSC will get in touch and provide further technical details as required.

The call will remain open for just over three months, closing 30 November.

Mr Fitzpatrick said proposals from all potential partners will be considered, whether commercial, research etc and partnership structures will be given consideration.

Mr Fitzpatrick said NSC was already in discussions with another company to reactivate a 13m-wide antenna at the Elfordstown Earthstation which was switched off in 2003. It used to transmit data traffic between Cyprus and the US.

The NSC currently has a wide array of broadcast dishes at the site which include providing satellite sports for a UK broadcaster and broadband for Sylogic/Butelsat in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Egypt.

Submissions for the Midleton antenna can be made at http://nationalspacecentre.eu/32m-dish-call


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