A multi-disciplinary team of students from UCD are aiming to be the first to put Ireland among the world’s space faring nations by sending an Irish designed and built satellite into space.
Earlier this week EIRSAT-1, (Educational Irish Research Satellite –1) successfully completed the first phase of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Fly you Satellite (FYS) Critical Design Review bringing Ireland one step closer to the stars.
“Basically, that means that ESA have signed off on the project. We’ve designed those components over the last year and now we have all of the components ready to be able to assemble them in our clean room here at the UCD School of Physics,” team member David Murphy told Independent.ie
The clean room was constructed in the UCD School of Physics and it does exactly what it says on the tin; air is filtered out and along with it any dust and unwanted particles to keep Eirsat-1 in as pristine a condition as possible before it’s packaged up and ready to be launched into the heavens.
The team now move on to the next phase, to build and test a working version of EIRSAT-1 that will stand up to the harsh realities of life in space.
“We’re going to simulate the vibrations of launch, so we’re going to shake the hell out of the CubeSat [satellite]. We’re also going to simulate the extreme temperatures that you experience in space, so we’ll heat it up, cool it down, and we’ll do all of that in a vacuum to simulate the conditions of space,” David said.
All going well the small shoebox-sized CubeSat satellite will be launched into space by the ESA sometime in 2020. EIRSAT-1 will first be sent to the International Space Station, where it will remain until the time comes for it to be deployed into orbit and conduct a range of experiments.
“We’re going to deliver the space craft hopefully in mid 2020 and from there ESA are going to take the CubeSat, pack it up, and send it to the ISS on a cargo resupply mission. When the time is right for deployment the astronauts will send it out through an airlock where it will be picked up by a robotic arm and let into space, like a pez dispenser or a jack in the box,” David added.
Ireland’s first space craft will spend six to twelve months in space, whizzing around our planet at 17,500 mph, orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes. During this time, it will send back information to mission control in UCD before meeting a fiery end as it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.
“It’ll be in orbit for 6-12 months. During that time its height above the earth will gradually decrease and, as it comes into contact with the atmosphere, it will start to burn up and none of the hardware will reach the ground,” team member Jessica Erkal from the UCD School of Physics told Independent.ie.
Once in orbit EIRSAT-1 will conduct a series of experiments, designed and developed in UCD, utilising technology from Irish industry partners such as ENBIO and SensL (now part of ON Semiconductor).
The main experiment on board will be a novel gamma-ray detector, called GMOD, which aims to detect gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic explosions in the universe, which occur when stars die or collide.
“Inside we’ve got our gamma ray detector, which we’re going to fly in space for the first time. That’s going to be able to detect gamma ray bursts which are some of the most luminous explosions of gamma rays in the universe. These occur when massive stars die or when neutron stars merge - which we know also give us gravitational waves,” said David, who has had a lifelong interest in all things space related.
“As a kid I was always obsessed with space and planets and all that kind of stuff. Growing up when the ISS was being built I was completely obsessed with that and I always thought that would be really, really cool to be able to work on something like that. I didn’t think that would happen for a long time but here we are now, we’ve got a group of students all putting together the first Irish satellite. In two years' time it’s going to be in space and I think that’s a dream come through for everyone on the project.”
The EIRSAT-1 team includes students from the UCD Schools of Physics; Mechanical and Materials Engineering; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; and Mathematics and Statistics. The students, funded by the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and ESA, are being supported by academic staff, postdoctoral researchers, technicians and industry mentors.