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Minister Halligan announces Ireland’s first ever Satellite

EIRSAT-1 will be launched from the International Space Station and will orbit for 12 months. EIRSAT-1 will gather data on Gamma Ray Bursts and will test innovative Irish space technologies. UCD and Queen’s University Belfast are leading the ESA-backed mission in partnership with five Irish companies. Mission will inspire the next generation to study STEM subjects.


The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced the selection of the EIRSAT-1 satellite, led by University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast, in partnership with five Irish companies to develop, launch and operate a Cubesat to be launched from the International Space Station. This will be Ireland’s first ever satellite and is being developed under the ESA Education Office “Fly Your Satellite” ! 2017 Programme.

Minister Halligan welcomed the announcement stating that “as Ireland has never launched a satellite of its own this mission represents a first for the island of Ireland and a giant leap for the Irish Space Sector and will be of enormous interest to the entire community.” Congratulating the project teams from UCD and Queen’s University Belfast, Minister Halligan expressed his expectation that “the project will have a significant impact on educational programmes and future skills by placing space flight know-how into students’ hands for the first time”. This is an incredibly exciting project with great potential to have significant impact beyond those directly participating in the project, including the expanding space industry sector in Ireland.”

According to Prof. Lorraine Hanlon of UCD’s School of Physics and lead Professor on the project, “this success has been made possible through sustained support from Enterprise Ireland, the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and ESA, combined with a team of outstanding students at undergraduate and graduate level in space science, physics and engineering, who will have to work extremely hard to pass the ESA reviews and make the dream of this satellite mission come true. Our students will have an amazing opportunity to learn, not only from the wealth of expertise at ESA, but also from the other excellent teams participating in the programme from across Europe. This hard work will prepare them very well for future careers in the space sector.”

The systems engineer is David Murphy, a PhD student in the UCD Space Science group, who says that   “Working on EIRSAT-1 is an unprecedented opportunity for Irish students. When I started my PhD I hoped that I'd be helping to push forward the design of a gamma-ray detector that might someday fly in space. I never expected that as a student I'd be responsible for flying that detector on Ireland's first satellite!”

EIRSAT-1 - Educational Irish Research Satellite 1 - is a collaborative space project, developed by students and staff of University College Dublin (UCD) and Queen’s University Belfast, which will provide training and education for graduates and undergraduate students in all major aspects of satellite development, under expert guidance from academic and industry mentors and ESA. The project is supported by a number of industrial partners including Resonate Ltd, ENBIO, SensL, Parameter Space and MOOG Dublin.

Dr Ronan Wall, Programme Manager at Moog Dublin and Team Leader for EIRSAT-1 said “The overall European Space market was worth €7.5 Billion Euro in 2015 and has provided recession-proof year-on-year growth for decades. Moog Dublin is delighted to support UCD and Queen’s University Belfast in this student programme which will help train some of the future workforce for the Space industry in Ireland.  Irish Space exports are estimated at €80 million in 2016 - providing at least 4:1 return on State investment in ESA – and we believe that this project will help us take that return to the next level by producing highly skilled workers to meet the export market opportunities.”

EIRSAT-1 will include two different payloads on a 2 Unit CubeSat. Both payloads contain technology from the industrial partners that will be flown in space for the first time, marking an important step in their space heritage. The payloads for EIRSAT-1 have been made possible through funding by ESA technology programmes including the Science Core Technology Programme.

The launch of an Irish CubeSat also reflects the ambition of the Irish Space Industry Group (ISIG) who recognised the importance of developing heritage to enable growth in the space sector in Ireland. ISGI Chair, Danny Gleeson, welcomed the announcement: “The Irish Space Industry Group is delighted with the selection by ESA of the UCD-led Irish satellite EIRSAT-1 to proceed to the next phase of the Fly Your Satellite! 2 Programme. The EIRSAT-1 mission is a fantastic opportunity to develop the skills and experience necessary to support sustainable growth in the Irish space sector and provide inspiration to young people to choose an exciting career in space science and engineering.”

The EIRSAT-1 mission will advance education in space science and engineering across the whole island of Ireland through collaboration between student teams, higher education institutions and high-tech companies. The mission will enable participants to develop know-how in space science and engineering and address skills shortages in the space sector. A key objective of the mission is to inspire the next generation of students to study STEM subjects, through an outreach programme developed by Blackrock Castle Observatory and Cork Institute of Technology.

The intention is that EIRSAT-1 will be launched and delivered to the International Space Station and will then be launched into orbit from the ISS having passed ESA’s stringent requirements. The satellite will orbit the Earth gathering data for approximately 12 months and will be managed and controlled from University College Dublin. A ground station in the School of Physics at UCD will allow commands to be uplinked via UHF radio and data to be downlinked via VHF radio from the spacecraft.

Hugo Marée, Head of the ESA Education & Knowledge Management Office stated: “Thanks to the support given to ESA’s Education Programme by all ESA Member States ESA is able to offer more frequent CubeSat-related opportunities to university teams. ESA is therefore delighted to welcome the student-built EIRSAT-1, Ireland's first ever satellite, in the Fly Your Satellite! programme.”

Commenting on the success of the Consortium Minister Halligan noted that “the consortium’s success reflects the great advances that have been made by Ireland’s Universities and Industry in recent years and is part of an ongoing rapid expansion of the Irish space sector. The knowledge and experienced gained from developing and operating this Satellite will contribute greatly to Ireland’s strategy for the space sector”

Prof Hanlon said that ‘Although the UCD Space Science group works on fundamental research questions in astrophysics, the technology we have developed has wider applications in medicine and security. We can never really imagine when we start new research projects where they will take us – that is especially true in this case – Ad Astra!’

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Notes to the editor

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced the selection of the EIRSAT-1 satellite, led by University College Dublin with Queen’s University Belfast, for the second edition of the Fly Your Satellite! Programme, along with CubeSats from five other European universities.

Following a call on 20 December 2016, eight student teams, shortlisted from all applications submitted to ESA, presented their CubeSat missions at a selection workshop at the European Space Research & Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands in the first week of May.

Mission evaluation and selection were carried out by a CubeSat Evaluation Panel, consisting of ESA experts from a range of disciplines. 

Payload details

The baseline mission for the CubeSat is the in-orbit demonstration of 2 technologies developed by Irish companies. The first payload element (called the ‘Gamma-ray Module’ or ‘GMOD’) is a miniaturised sensor for use in the detection of gamma-rays from both cosmic and atmospheric phenomena. The sensor is called a silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) and has been developed by SensL in Co. Cork. The SiPM has the potential to revolutionise in-situ and remote sensing of gamma-rays in space by removing the need for conventional photomultiplier tubes that are typically very bulky, fragile and require high voltages to operate. The second payload element (called the ‘ENBIO Module’ or ‘EMOD’) will provide in-orbit demonstration of the novel surface treatments made by ENBIO Ltd. (SolarWhite and SolarBlack).

The 2 Unit CubeSat configuration can provide sufficient on-board resources and volume to accommodate both payloads, offering a low-cost and fast route for student implementation and in-orbit demonstration of these important new technologies, both of which have potential for a wide range of space applications.

The consortium will be responsible for the development and operating costs while ESA will pay the associated launch costs.


Established in 1854, University College Dublin (UCD) is Ireland’s largest, most diverse and globally engaged research intensive university, with over 30,000 students from some 120 countries worldwide. UCD runs Ireland’s only taught MSc programme in Space Science & Technology. The UCD Space Science group, within the School of Physics, carries out fundamental astrophysics research into gamma-ray bursts, terrestrial gamma-ray flashes and other transient astrophysical phenomena. The group has a strong track record of building detectors and instruments for astronomy, such as the robotic telescope Watcher in South Africa, and in collaborating with international scientists on NASA and ESA missions.

Queen’s University Belfast

Queen's University Belfast has its roots in the Belfast Academicals Institution, which was founded in 1810, one of the United Kingdom's 10 oldest universities, and remains as the Royal Belfast Academicals Institution. Queen's University Belfast was admitted to the Russell Group of UK research-intensive universities in November 2006. The UK-wide research assessment of higher education institutions placed Queen’s in the top 20 for research quality and impact. It also confirmed that over 75% of the institutions research is world-class or internationally leading with over 95% of Queen’s academic staff returned for assessment, the University has 14 subject areas ranked within the UK’s top 20 with six of these in the top 10, and two in the top five.

The European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. Today it launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. (  Enterprise Ireland co-ordinates Ireland’s industrial and research participation in the programmes of the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Ireland’s membership of the European Space Agency

The purpose of Ireland’s membership of ESA is to participate in European space programmes with a focus on facilitating innovative Irish operations to develop leading edge space technologies and to commercially exploit their ESA participation in global space and non-space markets, leading to increased export sales and employment. Enterprise Ireland’s role in relation to ESA is to assist Irish operations to successfully bid for ESA contracts, providing expertise for Irish operations and researchers in developing and executing space strategies, as well as being a point of reference for the international space industry when they want to identify relevant sources of space-related expertise within Ireland. Irish industrial and research participation in ESA covers a range of sectors and technology areas including; software, precision mechanical engineering, telecommunications, electronics, optoelectronics and advanced materials and extending to end user equipment, services and applications.

Almost 60 Irish companies are active in the space sector.

ESA Education & Knowledge Management Office and Fly Your Satellite! Programme


ESA’s Fly Your Satellite! (FYS) programme is a recurring, hands-on programme designed and managed by the ESA Education Office in close collaboration with European Universities, with the objective to complement academic education and inspire, engage, and better prepare university students for a more effective introduction to their future professions in the space sector.

How the programme is conducted

During the course of the programme, the university student teams are supported in the development of their own satellite, whose mission is conceived at their own universities, and whose development is funded by the universities themselves and/or other national contributors. 

Coordinated and guided by their university professors, the student teams are supported and mentored by ESA specialists through different programme phases, all aiming at ensuring the satellites undergo accurate verification before being offered a chance to fly to space. 

To this end, ESA offers the CubeSat student teams access to state of the art test facilities; financial support to participate in workshops, training, and test sessions; sponsors their participation in the launch campaign; and offers them a launch opportunity.

For more information on the ESA Fly Your Satellite! Programme see: