Imagine looking up into the night sky and knowing that a little piece of your work is up there, orbiting earth and making history. This is the dream that myself and the EIRSAT-1 team are currently working towards. EIRSAT-1 is the Educational Irish Research Satellite, and is currently being designed and developed by students at UCD and Queens University Belfast.
EIRSAT-1 came about as a collaboration between University College Dublin and Queens University Belfast. Both Universities had been working on CubeSats, which are small cube shape satellites. When the European Space Agency launched the Fly Your Satellite program, which assists university teams to fly their satellites, UCD and Queens decided to pool their efforts and apply for the competition.
A lengthy proposal was developed and sent to ESA, and the EIRSAT-1 team was one of 8 University teams from all over Europe to travel to the European Space Agency Technology and Engineering Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands. The student led teams went through a week long workshop on satellite operations and gave a lengthy pitch to a panel of experts including 30 minutes of question time. To say the team were tired on returning from ESTEC is an understatement. We all impatiently waited for the announcement of the successful teams.
During my final exams we got the news that EIRSAT-1 is go! This extremely exciting news is also historical, as EIRSAT-1 is set to be Ireland’s first satellite. After a brief celebration, the mountain of work that lay ahead became apparent. We assembled a team and began working.
The EIRSAT-1 team consists of our leaders, Dr Ronan Wall, an expert in space science, Prof. Lorraine Hanlon, leader of the UCD Space Science Group and David Murphy, PhD student and all-round satellite buff. These leaders guide the students in the development and testing of EIRSAT-1. What is interesting about this team is that it is student led and one of the key objectives of the mission is to educate students both within the team and outside of it. The real practical experience of designing, testing, building and launching your own satellite is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a huge learning experience. The students on the team are consistently improving and learning on the job.
EIRSAT-1 consists of two experiments, or payloads, each with their own team of students. The first payload is called GMOD, the Gamma-ray Module. This is a Gamma-Ray detector, and it will be used to detect Gamma-Ray Bursts, the most energetic explosions in the Universe. The second EIRSAT-1 payload is EMOD, the Enbio Module. This experiment tests thermal coatings developed by Irish company Enbio, for use on future missions.
The EIRSAT-1 team has received amazing messages of support within Ireland and around the world. A very exciting day for the team involved a visit from the NASA Director Robert Lightfoot. His genuine interest in the project and the team was apparent and his helpful advice and words of wisdom left us rejuvenated and ready to face the tasks ahead.
At the moment we are currently working on a progress report for the European Space Agency. The team meets once a week to assess the milestones, or goals, and to discuss the progress made in the last week. Each team member is enthusiastic and in a way we have all been thrown in the deep end. But we are led by the amazing expertise of our leaders, who are always there to support us and make sure that this project gets off the ground (quite literally).
There are many reasons for calling this satellite EIRSAT-1, but I think the key word is Educational. The space industry in Ireland is growing exponentially each year, and Irelands involvement in the space sector is growing. We hope that EIRSAT-1 will inspire the next generation of space scientists and encourage people to support Irelands contribution to the space sector. On a personal note, I want to show people that they can dream big – one of my dreams was to once sit in a control centre and see my own mission fly – and really that dream isn’t too far out of reach. I hope to one day see a big Irish mission fly – but first, lets get back to work and get this mission off the ground.