Ireland’s first satellite is being tested for a planned 2022 launch

8 Oct 2021

The EIRSAT-1 team at the ESA Education Centre in Belgium. Image: UCD

EIRSAT-1, developed by a team of UCD researchers, is now undergoing rigorous environmental testing to see how it will survive in space.

As the world celebrates Space Week 2021, Ireland’s first satellite is a step closer to launching into space as it reaches the test phase to check if it is suitable for flight.

The team from University College Dublin (UCD) behind EIRSAT-1 are now running environmental tests on the satellite at a European Space Agency (ESA) facility in Belgium over a five-week period.

“It has been shaken to simulate launch on a rocket and is now being tested in the thermal vacuum chamber which subjects it to extreme hot and cold temperatures in a vacuum environment, just as it will experience during spaceflight,” systems engineer Dr David Murphy said.

“It’s incredible to see the project reach this very important milestone and to think about how far we have come since we first imagined EIRSAT-1.”

Ireland is currently the only full member of the ESA that does not have its own satellite, but the EIRSAT-1 team hopes to change that. First announced in May 2017, EIRSAT-1 is a miniature cube satellite, or cubesat, being developed at UCD.

Its mission is to provide training and education for students in all major aspects of satellite development, under guidance from academic and industry mentors and the ESA.

The team is working to build, test, launch and operate Ireland’s first satellite, which will perform in-orbit demonstrations of three novel payloads.

EIRSAT-1 successfully completed the first phase of the ESA’s critical design review in 2018 and is expected to be launched next year.

What will it do?

While in space, it will detect and record bursts of gamma rays using a detector developed by UCD’s Space Science group.

It will also test a new attitude control system – which helps orient and position a spacecraft – developed by the Dynamics and Control group at UCD, and test the performance of protective coatings made by Irish space-tech company Enbio.

EIRSAT-1 is based in the UCD Centre for Space Research (C-Space), which was launched last December as Ireland’s first dedicated hub for space-related research, innovation and education.

C-Space director Prof Lorraine Hanlon said that the latest test campaign is the most important milestone for the EIRSAT-1 project so far.

“We knew that all the parts of the spacecraft could survive the launch and space environment, but the enormous effort put in by the EIRSAT-1 team and ESA Fly Your Satellite! team has now given us confidence in the spacecraft as a whole.”

Training the ‘next generation of space scientists’

Joost Vanreusel, head of the ESA Academy where the tests are being run, said that the UCD researchers and students are faced with the same type of challenges faced by ESA professionals on a daily basis.

“By applying the same techniques that are used for larger satellites under guidance of ESA experts, the team’s hard work is serving two purposes,” he said.

“Verifying that the satellite will be ready to successfully execute its mission, while at the same time this next generation of space scientists and engineers is being further trained to work on Ireland’s and Europe’s future space programmes.”

C-Space is looking to tap into the growing space industry. Morgan Stanley estimates forecasted revenue in the global industry of more than $1tn by 2040, up from $350bn in 2020.

“We have a solid, robust and capable design for the first Irish spacecraft. We now enter the build phase for the flight model with extremely high confidence,” added Hanlon.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic