The Irish company helping Artemis put humans back on the moon

4 days ago

Illustration of the Gateway space station. Image: Alberto Bertolin/NASA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Dr Sarah Bourke, CEO of Dublin-based Skytek, tells us about the software company’s big ESA contract win to work on the Gateway lunar space station.

Last week, the world’s most powerful rocket blasted off into space. It’s the first step of NASA’s Artemis mission, which hopes that humans can soon be put on the moon again – including the first woman and first person of colour.

But what many in Ireland may not know is that a Dublin-based company has a significant role to play in this historic lunar plan.

Skytek, an Irish software company that has decades of experience in the space-tech sector, has bagged a European Space Agency (ESA) contract to develop flight support software for a planned space station that is expected to orbit the moon in a few years.

Called Gateway, the space station is an integral element of the Artemis programme. The international initiative, led by NASA and the ESA, will provide extensive capabilities to help with developing a sustainable presence on the moon.

“Artemis is the first stage in the process of building a space station and potentially a lab on the moon and all this kind of exciting stuff that they have planned,” Skytek CEO and co-founder Dr Sarah Bourke told SiliconRepublic.com.

“Skytek won the contract after an open competition that will see us work on the system similar to the one on the current space station to do all the procedures and processes, among other stuff. It’s really about building a whole new procedural system for the astronauts.”

Augmented reality

While not intended for permanent occupancy, the Gateway space station will be able to host four-person crews for periods of one to three months.

It will include features such as docking ports for visiting spacecraft, space for crew to live and work, and on-board science investigations to study heliophysics, human health and life sciences, among other areas.

Based on years of experience with the International Space Station, Skytek will look to streamline the authoring of thousands of crew procedures and processes, and provide mobile web applications to support daily maintenance and scientific activities.

Bourke said that other than helping with key ground support for astronauts on tasks such as communication and tackling emergencies, Skytek has also been working on new augmented reality (AR) technology to assist them.

“One of the problems with a lot of satellites is the sensors weren’t put in the right position,” she explained. “Using AR, you can guide the engineer to where the sensor needs to be placed, assist them in putting the sensor in position and then record that it went into the right position.”

Eyes beyond space

Ultimately, Gateway will be a platform that will help humans explore the moon and potentially Mars in coming years. However, space is not the only frontier where Skytek has been extending its services.

“Working in the space sector has afforded us the opportunity to work at the leading edge of science and technology. Indeed, we have taken this knowledge and successfully transferred it to other sectors including insurance and security,” said Bourke.

During the pandemic, Skytek also secured an ESA contract to develop a satellite-enabled platform. It included a virtual command and control centre to support more efficient Covid-19 responses by linking into Ireland’s Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting system.

“We’re really driving the insurance side of our business at the moment,” said Bourke, adding that Skytek also has its eyes on further developing AR for its clients.

“And then, obviously, we want to keep this big [Artemis] contract going.”

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Illustration of the Gateway space station. Image: Alberto Bertolin/NASA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com