Irish software to be used in NASA space mission


14 Jul 2005

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Update: Irish-developed technology will be used by NASA for the first time in space next month during the historic mission to the International Space Station, which is due to take off this weekend.

Skytek has developed indispensable technology for the mission that both NASA and the European Space Agency have adopted, which guides astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) through every task from putting on a space suit to preparing for the docking of the shuttle. This multimillion-euro project is the first time NASA has used Irish software technology in space.

The core operational technology, developed by Skytek, will be part of the payload delivered later today by NASA Space Shuttle Discovery’s historic return to flight mission (STS-114) to the ISS.

The NASA mission was due to take off last night but latest reports indicate the shuttle launch has been posponed until Saturday.

The system, which took five years to develop, will ‘walk’ astronauts in an information-rich browser through all types of procedures, both routine and emergency, increasing the safety and efficiency of the astronauts.

The system will be installed on arrival of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the ISS and is envisaged to become live on 17 August 2005. Over the past 12 months, the entire crew of the shuttle received extensive training in the new system.

The electronic manual software system, which carries currently more than 3,000 procedures authored by NASA, is integral to how the astronauts will operate and perform procedures in space.

Astronauts will access the system, called iPV (International Procedural Viewer), on a daily basis via laptops and NASA ground control will be able to send new procedures to the team as required and log all activity conducted.

All procedures and reference material relating to space station operations will be stored on the system so that astronauts will be guided by iPV through everything from preparing the ISS for the docking of the shuttle to recovering from the loss of a major system such as altitude control.

Mike Hurt, NASA procedures manager for the Space Station, said: “The Skytek system is important to the mission for three fundamental reasons. It further ensures the safety of our astronauts and enhances the efficiency in which they can carry out procedures. Also, its use of XML technology will represent a cost savings for ground personnel by making procedure changes easier to implement.”

With support from Enterprise Ireland, Skytek originally developed the system for the European Space Agency and the technology was adopted by NASA and the other space station partners in 2003. Skytek developed the software in partnership with EADS Space Transportation and United Space Alliance (Boeing and Lockheed Martin).

Skytek has a keen focus on the development of intellectual property and research, and is now exploiting the technology’s capability in non-space environments. The web-based technology is unique in the marketplace and has considerable application outside the space industry.

Dr Sarah Bourke, CEO of Skytek, said: “This is space-age technology, but because it is such a unique and powerful tool, it can be applied outside of the space industry quite readily. Critical tasks in sectors such as aviation and oil exploration also require tightly controlled procedures and our technology can have similar safety and procedural benefits for these companies.”

By John Kennedy

Dr Sarah Bourke, CEO, and Paul Kiernan, technical director, Skytek announced that for the first time ever, Irish technology will be a major ingredient in a NASA space mission