Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
UCD President, Professor Orla Feely, Laura Cotter and Antonio Martin-Carrillo (both EIRSAT-1 team members) pictured with the satellite.

Ireland's first satellite, built and designed by UCD students, has been launched into orbit

The historic launch took place in California shortly before 7pm Irish time.

LAST UPDATE | 13 hours ago

IRELAND’S FIRST EVER satellite has been launched into space.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carryying EIRSAT-1 lifted off from the Vandenbeg Air Force Base in California shortly before 7pm Irish time.

EIRSAT-1 (Educational Irish Research Satellite 1) has been designed, built, and tested by students at University College Dublin.

The mission has been in development for the past six years and around 50 UCD students have worked on the project over this time span.

It began when UCD applied to become part of the European Space Agency’s “Fly Your Satellite Programme” in 2017.

EIRSAT-1 is a CubeSat, a satellite that is a little bit smaller than a shoebox.

Dr David McKeown is an Assistant Professor/Lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at UCD and is the Engineering Manager for the EIRSAT-1.

Prior to take-off, he told The Journal that there’s both nerves and excitement pre-launch and added: “I’m really happy with where we are, we have tested our satellite as much as we can and I think it’s ready to go.”

He explained that the satellite has three “payloads”, or experiments in it.

It has a Gamma ray burst detector – Gamma-ray bursts occur during the death of massive stars and are detected here from galaxies that may be billions of light-years away.

McKeown said it’s also “got some thermal coatings and this experiment will test how well they perform in space”.

It’s also got an “algorithm that allows us to reorientate the satellite’s position and move it around in space”.

“So we’re testing three new Irish payloads out for the first time there,” said McKeown.

A ground station has been built in UCD and McKeown said this will allow them to “communicate with the satellite and get the data back from those experiments and analyse it”.

A poem called ‘All Ways Home’ is also engraved on the outer cover of the antenna module, in a formation like a spiral galaxy.

It was written by 12 Irish school children working as part of a collaborative project across Ireland.

Lorraine Hanlon is the Director of UCD’s Centre for Space Research and the Endorsing Professor for EIRSAT-1.

She explained to The Journal that there will be two times during the day, in the morning and the evening, when the spacecraft will be passing over Dublin.

“We have short windows of time every day, in total about 30 minutes, when we’ll be able to communicate with the spacecraft,” said Hanlon.

While it took six years to get to this point, there is a sense in which the real work begins today.

“You have to plan in advance exactly what commands you’re going to send up and what data you will take down and what changes you might have to make,” Hanlon told The Journal.

“If you don’t have a very good baseline plan to begin with, then you’ll never be able to make maximum use of that very limited time that you’ve got available.

“Then there’s all the work around the operations manual, which is a huge tome of things you should do in every path and contains every type of troubleshooting.”

Hanlon also noted that there will be an opportunity for amateur radio enthusiasts from all over the world to get involved in the mission.

“Over the next few days, amateur radio enthusiasts around the world will be listening out for the first beaconing from EIRSAT-1.

“So this is EIRSAT saying, ‘hello world, I’m alive’.

“That can be picked up with the information on our website.

“The ESA have launched a competition for people to send in the first beacons they hear from the satellite.

“So although in Dublin we can send commands up and take a lot of data down, there will be amateur radio enthusiasts all over the world listening out for these initial ‘hello world’ messages from the satellite.”

Hanlon added that those first few hours will be “incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking as we hopefully get that first contact with the spacecraft”.

McKeown also notes that it’s as exciting for staff as it is for students and described it as a “amazing educational experience that wasn’t available in Ireland until now”.

“For all of us it’s been a life changing, once-in-a-lifetime mission to be involved in,” said McKeown.

“And for it to be a first for Ireland makes it even more special.

“Six years ago, we didn’t know how to build a satellite and we’re now hours away from launching it.”

Hanlon told The Journal that the team has been getting “messages from people all over the country and the world with good wishes”.

“It boosts the mood a lot to know there’s so much happiness and support around the mission,” she added.

Hanlon also said that “Ireland should be incredibly proud of our UCD students”, noting the setbacks they have faced.

“They’ve done such a tremendous job through tough times, the pandemic, and the disappointment of the failure of the ‘Vega C’ rocket last December, which would have been our ride to space in March this year.

“We didn’t know when we would get another launch opportunity, so the team from Dublin is inspirational and I hope we all appreciate what a great job they’ve done.

“And that job will continue because, of course, today in one sense is only the start of the mission because now we have to operate it.”

She added that the team in UCD has “been working really hard to prepare to make sure we’re covered in the event that things don’t go as planned and we have contingencies and backups in place”.

Meanwhile, both McKeown and Hanlon hope that EIRSAT-1 can cement Ireland’s position as a player in space.

“You have this new industry in space where small countries like Ireland, Scotland, and Belgium can have companies and universities starting off and then branching out and becoming very successful very quickly,” said McKeown.

He added: “There’s a low cost of entry to space, where before you would need very large, expensive satellites.

“The miniaturisation of technology allows you to do more for less, which allows players like Ireland to get involved.

“One of the big parts of EIRSAT-1 is educating students so they can go out and work on more research projects and build up our space industry here in Ireland.”

Hanlon adds that “we’ve been doing space for a very long time in Ireland”.

She told The Journal: “We’re one of the earliest members of the European Space Agency, but this is definitely a first in terms of the full Systems Engineering.

“All of the design has been done in UCD, every piece of the spacecraft has been designed and built and tested in UCD.

F-U1NFlWYAAN3Dh EIRSAT-1 on X EIRSAT-1, a 'CubeSat' which was this evening launched into orbit EIRSAT-1 on X

“Having that full system capability is new and it brings a new element and talent pool.”

She also told The Journal that the students involved have “exactly the skills needed to support the growing space sector in Ireland”.

“Part of the Irish government strategy is to grow the space sector because it is such a strongly innovation driven one,” said Hanlon.

“And I for sure think this will set Ireland in an even stronger position in the future.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel