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EIRSAT-1 Ireland’s First Satellite

  • EIRSAT-1 has been selected to participate in ESA’s Fly Your Satellite! educational programme for university students, placing space flight know-how into Irish students’ hands for the first time.
  • EIRSAT-1 will gather data on Gamma-Ray Bursts and will test innovative Irish space technologies.
  • University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast are leading the ESA-backed mission,   in partnership with five Irish companies.
  • Mission will inspire the next generation to study STEM subjects.
  • EIRSAT-1 will be launched from the International Space Station, subject to successfully passing reviews by ESA.
  • The ESA Education office will support the EIRSAT-1 team through all stages of the design, build, test and launch of the satellite.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced the selection of the EIRSAT-1 satellite, led by University College Dublin with Queen’s University Belfast, for the second edition of the Fly Your Satellite!  Programme, along with CubeSats from five other European universities.

Following a call on 20 December 2016, eight student teams, shortlisted from all applications submitted to ESA, presented their CubeSat missions at a selection workshop at the European Space Research & Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands in the first week of May.

Mission evaluation and selection were carried out by a CubeSat Evaluation Panel, consisting of ESA experts from a range of disciplines.

Minister Halligan welcomed the announcement stating that “as Ireland has never launched a satellite of its own this mission represents a first for the island of Ireland and a giant leap for the Irish Space Sector and will be of enormous interest to the entire community.” Congratulating the project teams from University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast, Minister Halligan expressed his expectation that “the project will have a significant impact on educational programmes and future skills by placing space flight know-how into students’ hands for the first time. This is an incredibly exciting project with great potential to have significant impact beyond those directly participating in the project, including the expanding space industry sector in Ireland.”

According to Prof. Lorraine Hanlon of UCD’s School of Physics and lead Professor on the project “this success has been made possible through sustained support from Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and ESA, combined with a team of outstanding students at undergraduate and graduate level in space science, physics and engineering, who will have to work extremely hard to pass the ESA reviews and make the dream of this satellite mission come true. Our students will have an amazing opportunity to learn, not only from the wealth of expertise at ESA, but also from the other excellent teams participating in the programme from across Europe*. This hard work  will prepare them very well for future careers in the space sector.”

The systems engineer is David Murphy, a PhD student in the UCD Space Science group, who says that   “Working on EIRSAT-1 is an unprecedented opportunity for Irish students. When I started my PhD I hoped that I’d be helping to push forward the design of a gamma-ray detector that might someday fly in space. I never expected that as a student I’d be responsible for flying that detector on Ireland’s first satellite!”

The launch of an Irish CubeSat also reflects the ambition of the Irish Space Industry Group (ISIG) who recognised the importance of developing heritage to enable growth in the space sector in Ireland. ISIG Chair, Danny Gleeson, welcomed the announcement: “The Irish Space Industry Group is delighted with the selection by ESA of the UCD-led satellite EIRSAT-1 to proceed to the next phase of the Fly Your Satellite! 2 Programme. The EIRSAT-1 mission is a fantastic opportunity to develop the skills and experience necessary to support sustainable growth in the Irish space sector and provide inspiration to young people to choose an exciting career in space science and engineering.”

EIRSAT-1 – Educational Irish Research Satellite 1 – is a collaborative space project, developed by students and staff of University College Dublin (UCD) and Queen’s University Belfast, which will provide training and education for graduates and undergraduate students in all major aspects of satellite development, under expert guidance from academic and industry mentors and ESA. The project is supported by a number of industrial partners including Resonate Testing, ENBIO, SensL, Parameter Space and Nammo Dublin.

Dr Ronan Wall, Programme Manager at Nammo Dublin and Team Leader for EIRSAT-1 said “The overall European Space market was worth 7.5 Billion Euro in 2015 and has provided recession-proof year-on-year growth for decades. Nammo Dublin are delighted to support UCD and Queen’s University Belfast in this student programme which will help train some of the future workforce for the Space industry in Ireland.  Space contributed €76M to the Irish economy in 2015 – providing at least 4:1 return on state investment in ESA – and we believe that this project will help us take that return to the next level by producing highly skilled workers for what is the ultimate export market.”

EIRSAT-1 will include two different payloads on a 2 Unit CubeSat. Both payloads contain technology from the industrial partners that will be flown in space for the first time, marking an important step in their space heritage. The payloads for EIRSAT-1 have been made possible through funding by ESA technology programmes including the Science Core Technology Programme.

Dr. Gasser Abdelal of Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and lead structure engineer, remarked that this is “One remarkable step for academic staff on the project, and one giant leap for our aerospace degree students”

The EIRSAT-1 mission will advance education in space science and engineering across the whole island of Ireland through collaboration between student teams, higher education institutions and high-tech companies.  The mission will enable participants to develop know-how in space science and engineering and address skills shortages in the space sector.  A key objective of the mission is to inspire the next generation of students to study STEM subjects, through an outreach programme developed in partnership with Blackrock Castle Observatory/CIT.

The intention is that EIRSAT-1 will be launched and delivered to the International Space Station and will then be launched into orbit from the ISS, subject to EIRSAT-1 passing ESA’s stringent requirements.  The satellite will orbit the Earth, gathering data for approximately 12 months and will be managed and controlled from University College Dublin. A ground station in the School of Physics at UCD will allow commands to be uplinked via UHF radio and data to be downlinked via VHF radio from the spacecraft.

The activities on the development of the satellite will be performed with the support of the ESA Education Office in the frame of the Fly Your Satellite! 2 programme.

Hugo Marée, Head of the ESA Education & Knowledge Management Office stated:  “Thanks to the support given to ESA’s Education Programme by all the Delegations at the last Council at Ministerial Level, the Education Office has been in a position to reinforce its capability to offer more frequent CubeSat-related opportunities to university teams, including to those who never participated in  previous editions of its educational CubeSat programme. We are therefore delighted to welcome the student-built EIRSAT-1, Ireland’s first ever satellite, in the Fly Your Satellite! 2 programme. We truly look forward to supporting the development of the project by sharing ESA expertise and standard practices with the students.’’

Commenting on the success of the Consortium Minister Halligan noted that “the consortium’s success reflects the great advances that have been made by Ireland’s Universities and Industry in recent years and is part of an ongoing rapid expansion of the Irish space sector. The knowledge and experienced gained from developing and operating this satellite will contribute greatly to Ireland’s strategy for the space sector”

Prof Hanlon said that “Although the UCD Space Science group works on fundamental research questions in astrophysics, the technology we have developed has wider applications in space,   medicine and security. We can never really imagine when we start new research projects where our ideas will take us – that is especially true in this case! Despite its small size, EIRSAT-1 will detect the biggest explosions since the Big Bang and pave the way for future space science missions.”

*The six selected teams to proceed in the Fly Your Satellite! 2 programme are:

3Cat-4 – University Politècnica de Catalunya in Spain

CELESTA – University of Montpellier, France

EIRSAT-1 – UCD & Queen’s University Belfast
ISTnanosat-1 –  Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal

LEDSAT – La Sapienza – University of Rome in Italy

UoS3 – University of Southampton, United Kingdom.