How Ireland is setting up to be next nation in space
Preparatory testing for Ireland’s first space mission, EIRSAT-1, seen taking place at ESA’s Hertz antenna test chamber WHAT’S THE STORY?
For that nation is Ireland, which is on course to launch its first space satellite next year. It’s being built at a cost of €1.5 million, with funding from the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland as well as the European Space Agency (ESA) of which the UK is still a member – yes, that’s right, some small amount of British taxpayers’ money is going towards the Irish project.
DID YOU SAY IRELAND?
YES indeed. The Educational Irish Research Satellite 1, or EIRSAT-1 for short, is being designed and built by students and staff of University College Dublin (UCD), who are participating in the (ESA) educational Fly Your Satellite! Programme.
Experts from Ireland’s nascent space industry are also joining in. The satellite is both experimental and innovative and should help Ireland grow its participation in space-related developments – an increasingly lucrative market.
It’s also an educational aid in itself. The EIRSAT-1 team says its aim is to “develop the know-how of the Irish higher education sector in space science and engineering, by supporting student teams to build, test and operate the satellite”.
It also intends to “address skills shortages in the space sector by fostering collaboration between student teams and industry through the launch of three payloads that will demonstrate innovative Irish technology; and inspire the next generation of students towards the study of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects by launching the very first Irish satellite”.
WHAT IS THE SATELLITE GOING TO DO?
AT just 22cm by 10cm by 10 cm, the miniature satellite EIRSAT-1 is the size of child’s shoebox but it is still equivalent in complexity to a standard space mission.
Most if its payload is experimental as EIRSAT-1 will take new Irish technology into space. GMOD is a detector developed in UCD to measure bursts of gamma-rays from the most violent explosions in the Universe.
EIRSAT-1 will also test the performance of thermal coatings developed by Irish company ENBIO Ltd in an experiment in the ENBIO Module, or EMOD for short.
Additionally the performance of a piece of software called Wave Based Control will be tested to determine how well it controls the movement of EIRSAT-1 in space.
WHAT DO THE MAKERS SAY?
DAVID Murphy is a student in the UCD School of Physics. He said: “I’m EIRSAT-1’s system engineer which means I lead the design and assembly of the satellite. It’s my job to make sure that all the different parts that are being built by the team work together. Since I’m an astronomer, I have a huge interest in learning about the Universe and building devices that help us to study it.
“I also lead development of EIRSAT-1’s gamma-ray module, known as GMOD. GMOD will test new technology for use in the next generation of orbiting gamma-ray observatories. It’s incredible to think that something I helped design and built with my own hands will end up in space. I hope the work we’re doing now will help many more students in Ireland have the same experience one day.”
Maeve Doyle is also a student in the UCD School of Physics. She said: “I have taken on a leading role on the team, which involved a huge learning curve, doing satellite software development with a group of other UCD students.
“The software we are now writing will go on to run on EIRSAT-1’s on-board computer and will ultimately determine how the satellite behaves while in space.
“The excitement of this task is matched by its challenges and responsibilities, as we are all taking on completely new roles and learning new skills. It took me a while to get here, but now with each new challenge my confidence grows as I think “OK, I don’t know how to do that … YET, but I’ll learn.”
Joe Flanagan is a student the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
He said: “Being involved in the EIRSAT-1 mission has opened up doors for me in the European space sector that I could only have dreamed of. To be involved in the development of Ireland’s first ever satellite is something that I am truly grateful for and the mission will inspire a lot of young students throughout the country who may not have thought that this was possible.
“My role involves the design, testing and integration of the EMOD experiment into the satellite. I am testing the different components before flight to ensure that they will survive the launch and the harsh space environment during orbit.”
WHEN IS IT GOING UP?
IF all goes well the ESA will be given the satellite to launch sometime in the first half of 2021. The aim is for EIRSAT-1 to orbit the Earth for a year, carrying out the experiments and gathering data.
SO IF IRELAND CAN SEND STUFF INTO SPACE, WHY CAN’T WE?
WE already do. Glasgow builds more satellites than any other city in Europe and the Scottish industry could be worth £4 billion by 2030. There are space-related facilities across Scotland and we could soon have our own launch base at Space Hub Sutherland.
The question is, how much better could we do as an independent country perhaps back in the European Union, just like our Irish neighbours.