After years of development with the support of the ESA Education programme, the Educational Irish Research Satellite 1 (EIRSAT-1) is set to launch in November, marking Ireland’s first steps into space.
EIRSAT-1 was built by students from University College Dublin under the framework of ESA Academy’s Fly Your Satellite! programme (FYS) – a fully hands-on initiative supporting university student teams in the development of their own satellites.
Lead by students from the UCD School of Physics and the UCD College of Engineering, the project began in 2017 when the team’s proposal to build a CubeSat to perform gamma ray astronomy was accepted as part of the 2nd cycle of FYS.
The 2-unit CubeSat carries three experiments – or ‘payloads’. The primary science payload GMOD is a gamma ray detector that will study the most luminous explosions in the universe, gamma ray bursts. Secondary payloads include a thermal coating study that will assess the performance of surface treatments for satellites as well as an alternative system for controlling spacecraft orientation.
“University College Dublin has immense expertise in the domains of space science of astrophysics, and with EIRSAT-1 they overcame the challenges of a very complex engineering project,” recalls Joost Vanreusel, Head of the ESA Academy, preparing the next generation of Europe’s space workforce. “And that’s what made it a very appealing project for the Fly Your Satellite! educational programme: the combination of the scientific expertise at the university with ESA’s experience and expertise in the building and testing of small spacecraft.”
Over the past six years, the students have worked with ESA experts to design and build the satellite, and participated in test campaigns at ESA Education’s CubeSat Support Facility in Belgium and other ESA sites.
But the support and guidance did not stop there. A core tenant of the Fly Your Satellite! programme is exposing students to the full life cycle of a space mission, and this includes guidance and support for launch and beyond.
As Ireland’s first ever satellite, EIRSAT-1 posed unique regulatory challenges. ESA worked closely with Irish authorities to legally establish EIRSAT-1 as Ireland’s first satellite.
The student team also attended dedicated spacecraft communications and other training courses at ESA Academy’s Training and Learning Centre in Belgium, and later at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt Germany, to help establish Ireland’s first spacecraft operations procedures.
In the process, the team has built vital space infrastructure at UCD Dublin, including a cleanroom and Mission Control, where current and incoming students have been training to operate EIRSAT-1 once in orbit – a major step for space education and capacity building on Irish soil.
“It is a matter of pride for the Education team to be involved in the launch of the first satellite of a nation,” says Head of the ESA Education Office Hugo Maree. “The Irish students who arrived at ESA in 2017 are now in the lab, running tests with strong engineering skills, and preparing to operate a satellite like a proper Mission Control team. Seeing such young bright minds, readying for a career in the space sector and reaching so high, is so inspiring – the ultimate meaning of our Education programme.”
The satellite has left Ireland and is on its way to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, USA. Launch is currently slated for launch on 29 November on a Space X Falcon 9 rocket.
More information on ESA Education and its ESA Academy branch for university-level education activities, including Fly Your Satellite! available at www.esa.int/Education/ESA_Academy.
Joost Vanreusel, Head of the ESA Academy
Alex Kinnaird, Fly Your Satellite! Programme coordinator
Newsroom and ESA Media Relations: firstname.lastname@example.org
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