Ireland’s first satellite one step closer to space after passing major milestone

24 Sep 2018

Image: Anton Chernigovskii/Shutterstock

The Government and engineers working on EIRSAT-1 have confirmed the satellite has completed a major milestone as it prepares for space.

While countries such as Japan that are established in the space exploration game can land rovers on a nearby asteroid, Ireland is a relative newcomer to the scene.

However, an announcement made today (24 September) has brought Ireland one step closer to having its first spacecraft launched into orbit.

Announced in May of last year, EIRSAT-1 is a cube satellite (cubesat) to be created as part of an academic project comprising University College Dublin (UCD) postgraduate students.

Its mission is 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 European Space Agency (ESA).

‘Cost-effective route to gaining spaceflight heritage’

Now, the EIRSAT-1 team and the Government have confirmed that the craft has successfully completed the first phase of the ESA’s critical design review.

“Cubesats such as EIRSAT-1 are disrupting the traditional space sector globally, providing a fast and cost-effective route to gaining spaceflight heritage,” said Prof Lorraine Hanlon, EIRSAT-1’s project leader.

“As an emerging space nation, Ireland’s future space endeavours will benefit from the skills developed by the talented team of UCD students who are building EIRSAT-1.”

With this now assured, the engineers will be able to progress to the next phase of development and actually assemble and test an EIRSAT-1 prototype. This prototype will be tested at UCD’s new clean rooms and, subject to passing further reviews and mission milestones, the satellite will be delivered to ESA by mid-2020 with its three scientific experiments on board.

What’s on board?

The satellite will then be delivered to the International Space Station, where it will be released into orbit to begin operating for a period of between six and 12 months. During this time, EIRSAT-1 mission control on Earth will continue to monitor and communicate with the craft.

The main experiment on board will be a novel gamma-ray detector, called GMOD, which aims to detect gamma-ray bursts. These are the most energetic explosions in the universe, which occur when some stars die or collide.

The second experiment, EMOD, is an in-flight demonstration of thermal control coatings developed by Irish company Enbio.

The third experiment, called Wave-Based Control (WBC), tests a UCD-developed algorithm to control the movement of EIRSAT-1.

PhD student Lána Salmon said it will be an enormous benefit to future spacecraft engineers and astronomers. “Students in Ireland, like myself, are for the first time getting the opportunity to contribute to satellite development,” she said. “I did not expect to be involved in such an exciting Irish project so early in my career.”

Updated 3.35pm, 24 September 2018: This article was amended to remove reference to the involvement of Queen’s University Belfast, which has since left the project.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic