Susan McKenna Lawlor: How Ireland played a vital role in the Rosetta mission

25 Jun 2015

Astrophysicist and founder of Space Technology Ireland, Susan McKenna Lawlor, describes what it was like to play a part in the world-famous Rosetta mission, which aimed to learn more about Comet 67p.

As far as dropping a bombshell goes, Susan McKenna Lawlor’s decision to tell the Insprefest 2015 crowd that she wanted to begin developing Ireland’s first spacecraft was certainly one of the highlights of the three-day event.

However, prior to this announcement, McKenna Lawlor had warmed the crowd up to the idea with her fascinating keynote speech detailing how she and Space Technology Ireland (STIL) were able to contribute to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) incredible mission to land its Philae lander on the 67p comet’s surface and send back scientific data to Earth.

The component that McKenna-Lawlor referred to in particular was the Electrical Support System (ESS) processor unit, which had the rather important role of actually transmitting the collected data the 200m-plus kilometres to Earth.

During her keynote, she spoke of the obvious difficulties of just getting the craft into a safe orbit around Comet 67p as it travels at thousands of kilometres a second and heralded the team’s achievements.

“Getting [Rosetta] into an orbit like that was really an outstanding achievement and shows the ESA and their dynamics team are right on top of their game, world class.”

Philae’s waking from hibernation

Of course as we now know, Philae did not land on the comet’s surface as expected and actually ‘bounced’ before falling on its side, leaving the ESA team fearing that they only had a few hours of battery power to run tests, which, with a bit of tinkering, had about 60 hours of research power in its stores.

This all changed just prior to Inspriefest 2015 on 13 June, when, with the help of STIL’s ESS, Philae woke up from its hibernation.

It will now be up to the ESS to send the thousands of packets of information at 300,000km every second, which will be revealed as the weeks go on.

Speaking of what’s now in store for Philae, McKenna Lawlor concluded: “I put [on the screen] watch this space, we’re all waiting in anticipation.”

Watch McKenna Lawlor give her fascinating insight into the mission below.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM with fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic