Irish tech teams’ work on James Webb Space Telescope is out of this world

4 Jan 2022

James Webb Space Telescope. Image: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

Irish start-up Réaltra developed a video system for the telescope’s launch vehicle, which was tested by Newry’s Resonate Testing, while Nammo Ireland provided structural supports.

Several Irish teams have contributed to the historic launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

The telescope was launched on 25 December from the Guiana Space Centre in South America, as a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

A successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, it is the largest and most powerful space observatory ever built and is set to give scientists a new eye on the cosmos.

Irish start-up Réaltra designed and manufactured the video system mounted on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle for the telescope. The system relayed high-definition video images of the separation of the launcher’s fairing and of the telescope separation as it headed on the journey towards its final orbit location.

Réaltra is a division of Dublin-based electrical and electronic manufacturing company Realtime Technologies, which was founded in 1996 by Paddy White. He established Réaltra in 2018 alongside CTO Diarmuid Corry and CCO Danny Gleeson.

This is the first time the video system has been used, having originally been developed for the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. The successor to Ariane 5 is due for its first flight in 2022.

Newry-based commercial testing company Resonate Testing worked closely with Réaltra to ensure its equipment could survive the harsh environments of the launch and space.

Resonate Testing managing director Tom Mallon said that Christmas was “extra special” for the team this year. “As a company we were extremely proud to have played a part in the successful launch of the huge Ariane 5 launcher and the James Webb telescope.

“We have been working with Réaltra Space for some time, and in recent years we have been competing on a global level by exploiting key upstream resources and developing world-class space downstream capabilities,” he added. The Northern Ireland company provides testing for several industries as well as the space-tech sector.

Nammo Ireland, which is a part of Norwegian space engineering company Nammo, also provided structural supports for the Vulcain engine that powered the telescope’s launch vehicle, Ariane 5. The Dublin-based branch will manufacture components for both the Vulcain and Vinci engines on the new Ariane 6 launch vehicle.

As well as these companies, researchers at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) were involved in key technology for the James Webb Space Telescope. A team led by Prof Tom Ray at DIAS was responsible for providing infrared technology to enable scientists to see further into space.

Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English, said: “It was wonderful to see the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, with images of the spacecraft starting its long journey streamed back to Earth by Irish technology and relayed around the world.”

English added that he would “eagerly anticipate the groundbreaking science” that will be enabled by the telescope, “with Irish scientists at the heart of uncovering the secrets of the formation of our universe”.

Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, also congratulated the Irish companies and scientists involved in the mission.

“Irish companies have consistently shown that they can deliver innovative technologies to the space sector. Webb is the most ambitious space mission for many years, if not decades, and it is fitting that Ireland has played such a prominent role in the Ariane 5 launch, and also in the scientific instruments on the telescope itself.”

Updated, 12pm, 5 January 2022: This article was updated to include details of Resonate Testing’s involvement.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.