EIRSAT-1: What we know about Ireland’s first satellite

24 May 2017

Attaching thermocouples to a cubesat. Image: Rasmus G Sæderup/AAUSAT team/University of Aalborg, Denmark

Ireland’s entry into the space race starts now as the ESA confirms the launch of EIRSAT-1, but what is its purpose?

Irish contributions to the endeavours of space research have been significant, from the Birr Castle telescope to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Laurence O’Rourke playing a large part in Rosetta’s contact with Comet 67p.

However, we still have not sent an Irish person into space, or even one of our own spacecraft into Earth’s orbit – until now.

In a statement, the ESA has confirmed the selection of a satellite owned and built by an Irish team, comprising researchers and five spacetech companies that will launch a satellite called Educational Research Satellite-1, or EIRSAT-1 for short.

To be led by University College Dublin (UCD) and Queen’s University Belfast, the cube satellite (cubesat) will be launched from the International Space Station, where it will join a multitude of other objects in Earth’s orbit.

What is its purpose?

EIRSAT-1 will aim to provide training and education for graduates and undergraduate students in all major aspects of satellite development, under guidance from academic and industry mentors, and the ESA.

It is also hoped that with a satellite in orbit flying the flag for Irish space research, outreach programmes will be held at Blackrock Castle Observatory and Cork Institute of Technology to inspire the next generation of students to study STEM subjects.

Within the satellite will be two different payloads, both of which contain technology from industrial partners that will be flying into space for the first time.

Developed under the ESA Education Office’s Fly Your Satellite! 2017 programme, the satellite’s industrial partners include Resonate, Enbio, SensL, Parameter Space and Moog Dublin.

The research team

Dr Ronan Wall, programme manager at Moog Dublin, has been named as team leader for the EIRSAT-1 mission. He said it gives Ireland greater entry into a lucrative sector.

“Irish space exports are estimated at €80m in 2016, providing at least 4:1 return on State investment in ESA; and we believe that this project will help us take that return to the next level by producing highly skilled workers to meet the export market opportunities.”

The lead scientist on the project has been named as Prof Lorraine Hanlon from UCD’s School of Physics, who noted the educational benefits of an Irish satellite.

“Our students will have an amazing opportunity to learn, not only from the wealth of expertise at ESA, but also from the other excellent teams participating in the programme from across Europe,” she said.

“This hard work will prepare them very well for future careers in the space sector.”

What about Cumar?

Meanwhile, there have been no updates on the Cumar satellite announced by Prof Susan McKenna-Lawlor – one of Ireland’s most prestigious space scientists – at Inspirefest 2015.

At the time, McKenna-Lawlor said that she had received support to launch an Irish satellite for as little as €5m, following an agreement with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

It was hoped that the satellite would be sent into space by the end of 2016, but, as of yet, it has not been launched.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic