Meet the Irish scientists training at ESA to forge next-generation spacecraft

26 Oct 2017

Stephen O’Connor and Kim Heary have touched down in the Netherlands to begin their stint at ESA. Image: Alice PR

Two Irish scientists have won a national competition to train at ESA, with the aim of contributing to breakthrough space science and technology.

After launching a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) last year, the Irish Research Council (IRC) has revealed this year’s duo of scientists set to pack their bags for continental Europe.

The partnership sees Irish-based science and engineering graduates given a chance to work on a number of projects across ESA’s centres to make their mark in the field of space exploration.

This will cover topics such as human spaceflight; the launch and operation of unmanned exploration missions to other planets; Earth observation; science and telecommunication; and designing launch vehicles.

So, after beating their peers to the coveted two spots, Dublin natives Kim Heary and Stephen O’Connor will be the ones to make the trip.

Heary has a master’s degree in experimental physics from NUI Galway and, during her time at ESA, will work on investigating the effects of atomic oxygen on external space optics to ensure that spacecraft can withstand the harsh conditions of space during their whole service life.

Meanwhile, O’Connor, a University College Dublin master’s graduate in space and science technology, will work on a project that investigates the relationship between molecular contamination and wavelength optics. Some of the work he will undertake may contribute to future space missions such as Plato or Euclid.

The pair are now starting their stint at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands.

Speaking of their success, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, and Research and Development John Halligan, TD, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for both Kim and Stephen to be involved in cutting-edge projects at ESA. It will be hugely important to them both for their own development and future career opportunities.”

The recently appointed director of the IRC, Peter Brown, also commented: “The [IRC] is committed to supporting the development of Europe’s space capability and ensuring that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic