‘Ireland’s Space Endeavours’ tells the story of how Ireland has leveraged its membership of ESA to create an indigenous space industry developing products and services in diverse sectors including software, materials, optoelectronics, telecoms, satellite navigation and life sciences.
Dr Bryan Rodgers, Senior Development Executive of Enterprise Ireland’s International Technology Programmes, details some of his country’s most prominent space endeavours...
Dr Bryan Rodgers
Would you be surprised to learn that Ireland is one of the founder members of the European Space Agency (ESA), with a vibrant space industry and a burgeoning space research sector?
Enterprise Ireland, the government agency charged with growing indigenous industry, has recently published a collection of case studies of Irish companies and research institutes developing technologies and scientific instruments for space with ESA support.
‘Ireland’s Space Endeavours’
tells the story of how Ireland has leveraged its membership of ESA to create an indigenous space industry developing products and services in diverse sectors including software, materials, optoelectronics, telecoms, satellite navigation and life sciences.
Irish scientists are also contributing to ESA missions such as the Herschel Space Observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope and Solar Orbiter. In addition, researchers in life sciences are finding solutions to keeping astronauts healthy in space, with potential benefits to our ageing population back on Earth.
Indeed, this concept of ‘spin-out’ of technologies developed for space into broader terrestrial markets forms a key part of Ireland’s strategy for participation in ESA programmes.
Take Radisens Diagnostics for example: this small company based on the campus of the Cork Institute of Technology has developed a handheld point-of-care blood testing device that takes a finger prick of blood, loads it onto a spinning disc and instantly analyses it. Its low mass and spinning disc approach means it is perfectly suited to working in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station, something that appealed to ESA scientists. But Radisens is commercialising this technology in the €6bn human diagnostics market here on Earth, and has just signed a contract with the NHS in the UK.
The principle also works in reverse, where technologies developed for terrestrial applications can find use in space. EnBio, based in University College Dublin’s innovation centre, developed a novel coating technology for the medical devices sector, specifically orthopaedic implants. Working with ESA, however, it realised that this coating could be used to deposit thermally emissive ‘black’ surfaces for spacecraft and satellites, with a significant improvement in robustness compared with other materials such as paint or anodised surfaces. From this promising start, ESA has asked EnBio to look at applying its coating to the heat shield of the upcoming Solar Orbiter mission, where it will be exposed to intense radiation close to the Sun.
Artist's impression of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
Professor Peter Gallagher is also working on Solar Orbiter, leading a team at Trinity College Dublin’s Astrophysics Research Group providing image analysis software for the mission’s X-ray imaging spectrometer.
Scientists at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, led by Professor Tom Ray, are at the forefront of developing filters and software for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Once launched in 2017, it will offer new insight into the formation of the universe’s first galaxies, stars and planets – a particular interest of Professor Ray.
Dr Brian Caulfield of University College Dublin has recently completed a parabolic flight campaign with ESA to test electrical muscle stimulation technology aimed at aerobically exercising astronauts on the international space station and on long-duration trips to Mars. This novel approach could save valuable weight, and also enable astronauts to exercise while simultaneously working or even sleeping – an enormous benefit in space as a countermeasure to the effects of weightlessness on the human body. This approach could also be applied back on Earth to help incapacitated patients exercise and speed recovery from illness.
This is just a brief snapshot of the space science and technology landscape in Ireland, there are many more examples detailed in ‘Ireland’s Space Endeavours’
Ireland is well placed to take advantage of future opportunities in space, working with the support of the ESA, with positive economic, societal and scientific benefits to our citizens.
So perhaps when you next think of Ireland, you’ll think of our contribution to space science as well as shamrock, rain and Guinness!