The future for Irish space exploration is safe, considering the remarkable achievement of four secondary school students from Athlone, Co Westmeath.

They have taken top prize at the European Space Agency (ESA) CanSat international competition after constructing a tiny satellite the size of a fizzy drink can.

Boldly going where no group of Irish students has gone before, Paul McGrath, Pádraig McDermott, Usman Riaz, and Sebastian Klosowski beat stiff competition from 17 other countries to take the top honours in the annual contest.

A ESA initiative, the competition fosters an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) careers by offering students a hands-on experience of a space-themed project. 

The final was held on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores.

Eighteen teams participated in the European finals this year: The winners of the CanSat national competitions from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Nordic (joint competition by Finland, Sweden, and Norway), Portugal, Poland, Romania, Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, as well a team from Hungary selected directly by ESA.

Ireland has performed well in recent European finals, placing third and second in 2016 and 2017, respectively, but this year’s victory marks the first time Ireland has brought home the gold.

Called Taistealaí, the Irish word for traveller, the winning CanSat developed by the students from Marist College in Athlone uses sensors to seek out planets that can support life.

The students were joined by their teacher, Georgina Clear, who was thrilled with her team’s performance.

“The lads are absolutely delighted,” she said. “Everyone here at Marist College is incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved. 

"Even in the height of the competition, the spirit of co-operation and comradery between the teams was inspiring.

“It really drove home the collaborative nature of these kind of enterprises, and how it can bring people from all backgrounds together.

“I cannot recommend the CanSat competition enough. Beyond the obvious benefit of teaching STEM skills to students, it has taught our team about project management, teamwork, and outreach.”

Alan Giltinan, of CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, the national co-ordinator of CanSat Ireland, was delighted.

He said: “It is a testimony to all their hard work and dedication and a fantastic achievement for the students, staff, mentors, and everyone involved.”

“The CanSat programme brings this vision together by combining many aspects of STEM while incorporating vital career elements such as presentation skills and information interpretation.

“By winning the European final, the students have highlighted that Ireland has a student base well equipped for STEM and space careers, such as the emerging news space sector.”

More on this topic

Second planet could be orbiting neighbouring star just four light years awaySecond planet could be orbiting neighbouring star just four light years away

Astronomers find new class of ‘unusual objects’ near supermassive black holeAstronomers find new class of ‘unusual objects’ near supermassive black hole

Space missions set to observe violent cosmic eventsSpace missions set to observe violent cosmic events

Nasa intern helps to discover new planet in first week at organisationNasa intern helps to discover new planet in first week at organisation


Frank Keogh did not want to get a hearing aid. He was afraid that it would make him look old. But now, just several weeks after having one fitted, he says that he can’t do without it.Hearing tests: A word in your ear

I see that a website describes the call of Canarian cory’s shearwaters as ‘waca waca’. It’s a mad, hysterical call, uttered when the parent birds arrive to feed their nestlings.Cory’s shearwaters show long-distance qualities

Is it too much to hope that an important public health matter, such as Lyme disease, will be an issue in the general election? There’s been a worrying reluctance by the authorities to face up to the extent of the disease here.Facing up to Lyme disease

A paper published in Current Biology examines the extinction of a colourful little bird which, until recently, thrived in the eastern US. With the appalling environmental catastrophe enveloping Australia, home to 56 of the world’s 370 parrot species, this account of the Carolina parakeet’s demise is timely.Trying to save the parrot is not all talk

More From The Irish Examiner