NASA mission blasts off with device made in Ireland

23 Feb 2021

Image: © dimazel/

The device to measure microgravity changes was sent to the International Space Station as part of a resupply mission.

On Saturday (20 February), Northrop Grumman launched an Antares rocket and an uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft on a NASA resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Along with a restock of food and supplies on board the spacecraft, named SS Katherine Johnson, the cargo also included an innovative scientific instrument, built and designed in Ireland.

The Irish Times reports that a PayLoad Data Router (PLDR) system was on board, which was manufactured in Dublin by an Irish subsidiary of the US multinational Curtiss-Wright Avionics and Electronics Group and Réaltra Space Systems Engineering, a division of Realtime Technologies.

This device can measure tiny changes in microgravity and will help the European Space Agency (ESA) conduct experiments in microgravity that would not be possible on Earth. It will enable ESA researchers to precisely measure the levels of microgravity on the ISS for the remainder of its lifetime in orbit.

According to NASA, the Cygnus resupply mission will support several new and existing investigations relating to microgravity.

Researchers plan to use tiny worms to help determine the cause of weakening muscles that astronauts can experience in microgravity. Another experiment will examine sleep quality in microgravity, while a third experiment is testing whether microgravity could optimise the production of artificial retinas from start-up LambdaVision.

In 2018, the PLDR successfully passed its flight acceptance review to enable its launch. According to Enterprise Ireland, this marked the first time an Irish company was awarded the prime contractor on a system developed for the ISS.

Réaltra is an engineering company that focuses on developing electronic systems for space applications. In January 2019, it was awarded a €3.4m contract from German space company OHB System to design, develop and deliver the PayLoad Interface Unit (PLIU) for the ESA’s Plato mission, due to be launched in 2026. The PLIU will provide the thermal control system for the telescopes.

In June of that same year, Réaltra was awarded a contract of more than €1m from space company ArianeGroup to design, develop and deliver the Independent Video Kit that will provide the on-board live video telemetry from Ariane 6, with the first flight planned for the second quarter of 2022.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic