Cork antenna could find new lease of life in search for ET

23 Aug 2016

A satellite dish outside Vienna, Austria

The country’s largest antenna at the National Space Centre (NSC) in Cork is calling on proposals for how best to restart the 32-metre-wide array, with hopes it could become a major boon in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

For nearly 20 years, the NSC antenna has been left dormant at its base in Elfordstown in Cork, having spent just over a decade as a receiver for telecoms traffic from across the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the equivalent of €10m being spent on its construction – making it the largest of its kind in Ireland – the arrival of the first major underground transatlantic cables in the mid-1990s rendered the dish obsolete.

However, the NSC is hoping that, despite the dish currently being of no interest from a commercial perspective, dishes like this could prove “extremely powerful research tools”.

That is why it is now inviting proposals from organisations that may want to use it for astronomical purposes, such as in the search for radio signals from extraterrestrial intelligence, the tracking of space debris, or even just for educational purposes.

‘It’s worth looking after’

However, all types of partnerships are being invited to submit a proposal, with the call remaining open for the next three months, with a deadline of 30 November this year.

Aside from this particular dish, the NSC operates a number of other dishes for TV broadcasters across Europe and Africa, from the UK to Egypt.

Speaking about the potential for this satellite dish and the benefits it could bring to the NSC, its chief executive, Rory Fitzpatrick, said to the Irish Examiner: “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.

Satellite dish image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic