Irish space start-up gets €800,000 in ESA funding for big data in the cosmos

10 Feb 2015

(Left to right) Co-founder of Parameter Space, Prof Lorraine Hanlon; Dr William O'Mullane, head of operations development division, ESA; and Dr Sheila McBreen, Parameter Space co-founder. Image via Nick Bradshaw

Irish space start-up Parameter Space will soon be looking at bringing big data to the stars now that it has secured an €800,000 European Space Agency (ESA) contract as part of a three-year project.

The University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out company created last year will now be looking to develop new software capable of exploiting the unprecedented volume of data returning to Earth from the ESA’s Gaia satellite, which was launched in late 2013.

The main goals of the €700m mission are to measure the precise positions and luminosity of more than 1bn stars, with the hope of discovering thousands of planets around other stars and supernovae, but the ESA is facing a daunting task in trying to sort out the astronomical data it is receiving.

According to the ESA, since July 2014, Gaia has made nearly 100bn measurements with the help of the craft’s 1bn-pixel high-powered digital camera.

By the time its mission is finished, Gaia’s database will eventually grow to 1PB (petabyte) in size, which is equivalent to about 200,000 DVDs worth of data with the eventual goal of creating a 3D map of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

To achieve this, Parameter Space will develop a portal to host analysis algorithms provided by the scientific community and will develop specific tools for enhanced analysis and access to this data with the help of four new jobs created as a result of this new funding.

Prof Lorraine Hanlon, co-founder of Parameter Space, said, “We are delighted to have secured this key contract from ESA and our aim is to develop software tools that will provide additional capability for scientists and citizens to make use of this unique data set.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic