Irish innovators are set to boldly go where few have gone before as growing numbers get a chance to develop technologies bound for space.

With around 50 firms working in the sector, an initiative aims to assist in an anticipated growth, to 80 companies, by 2020. In the same short period, annual revenues to the sector are expected to double to over €150m.

In partnership with Athlone Institute of Technology, Maynooth University and the Irish Maritime and Energy Research Cluster, Tyndall National Institute in Cork is leading the new European Space Agency Space Solutions Centre Ireland.

It is not just the development of services and products for use beyond the stratosphere which is being encouraged. Funding is also available for innovators wishing to adapt existing space technology for use closer to home.

“So much technology we use every day originally came from space programmes,” said David Gibbons, ESA Space Solutions Centre Ireland manager.

He pointed to the success of an Irish firm whose adaptation of technology developed for use in space. SubTeraNDT in Borris, Co Carlow, has been through a similar programme in the UK. It has applied the use of sub-terahertz frequencies to detect corrosion and defects under layers of paint, insulation and coatings, proving very useful in the oil and gas industries.

Enbio from Dublin has used coating materials originally developed for artificial hip joints to create ‘sunscreen for satellites’ to protect them from solar radiation. This has since led to more terrestrial uses, such as non-stick moulds for making tyres and ways to cool electronics.

In one strand of the Irish space centre’s work announced yesterday, 25 start-up companies will each receive €50,000 seed funding but also expert technical assistance of member institutions and the chance to access other funding streams.

A separate initiative will see 10 rounds of €40,000 funding to support technology transfer for established companies developing demonstrators for new products and services using space technology. Even if they are not sure where they might fit, Mr Gibbons said companies and entrepreneurs should make contact to see if they might be suitable for the programme.

“People get hung up on the idea of technology that will be used on satellites or spacecraft but this is about applying space technology more broadly to create good products, good companies and more jobs. Think enterprise, rather than Starship Enterprise,” said Mr Gibbons.

Julie Sinnamon, chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, said the agency was delighted to be jointly funding the centre with the European Space Agency.

“Enterprise Ireland will bring its resources to the partnership to assist start-up companies in the development of new products for the global space market, supporting export sales and job creation, with a strong focus on regional entrepreneurship.”



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