UCD Spin-out Secures €800,000 from European Space Agency to Address Big Data Challenges in Space

Parameter Space Ltd, a new University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out company, has secured a €800,000 contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to fund a 3-year project.

The objective of the project is to develop new software capable of exploiting the unprecedented volume of data returning to Earth from ESA's Gaia satellite which was launched in late 2013.

The contract will also enable the company to create 4 new jobs.

Pictured at the UCD School of Physics are Prof. Lorraine Hanlon and Dr Sheila McBreen, Parameter Space, co-founders with Dr William O'Mullane, European Space Agency

The main goals of this €700 million mission are to measure the precise positions and luminosity of ~1 billion stars and to discover thousands of planets around other stars and supernovae.

Since July 2014 Gaia has made nearly 100 billion measurements with its 1-billion pixel digital camera. Gaia’s database will eventually grow to 1 Petabyte in size which is equivalent to about 200,000 DVDs worth of data.

Analysis of this data will result in the creation of a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy.

Gaia's sun-shield unfolding. Image: ESA, C.Carreau

Parameter Space will develop a portal to host analysis algorithms provided by the scientific community and develop specific tools for enhanced analysis and access to this data.

Parameter Space was established in 2014 by astrophysicists Professor Lorraine Hanlon and Dr Sheila McBreen as a spin-out from the UCD School of Physics. They established the company following completion of the 5-week 2014 UCD Commercialisation Bootcamp held at NovaUCD.

They lead the UCD Space Science and Advanced Materials group and together have over 30 years of experience working on space missions, including ESA’s INTEGRAL mission and NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

Professor Lorraine Hanlon, UCD School of Physics and Parameter Space, co-founder said, “We are delighted to have secured this key contract from ESA and our aim is to develop software tools that will provide additional capability for scientists and citizens to make use of this unique data set.”

Dr Sheila McBreen, UCD School of Physics and Parameter Space co-founder added, “The data analytics skills we have developed over many years working on fundamental physics in the UCD Space Science group have enabled us to make a successful bid for this ESA contract.”

Dr William O'Mullane, Head of Operations Development Division, ESA said, “Having personally worked on the Gaia Science Ground Segment for nearly two decades it is great to start thinking about delivering data to the world. The European Space Astronomy Centre already serves up the ESA space science mission data and will also serve up Gaia data. This contract is part of our continuing attempt to improve our delivery of science, it is a pleasure to find an innovative and capable team to collaborate on this in Dublin.”

Dr Michael Perryman, one of the original proposers of the Gaia mission in 1993 and a UCD Adjunct Professor, is an advisor to Parameter Space. He led the development of its scientific, technical, and data processing aspects for 15 years and is an expert on the mission and the data analysis challenges it poses.

Dr Bryan Rodgers, Enterprise Ireland, which manage Ireland’s membership of ESA on behalf of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, said, “The establishment of Parameter Space Ltd clearly demonstrates how Ireland’s participation in ESA space science research programmes can lead to job creation, with opportunities for highly-qualified graduates. That Parameter Space’s first employee, Daniel Vagg, is a graduate of UCD’s new Masters in Space Science and Technology should also inspire young space scientists that they can have a rewarding career right here in Ireland.”

Parameter Space co-founders Prof. Lorranie Hanlon Dr Sheila McBreen with Parameter Space's first employee Daniel Vagg


10 February 2015

For further information contact Micéal Whelan, University College Dublin, Communications Manager (Innovation), e: miceal.whelan@ucd.ie, t: +353 1 716 3712 or Professor Lorraine Hanlon, e: lorraine.hanlon@ucd.ie, t: +353 1 716 2214 or Dr Sheila McBreen, e: sheila.mcbreen@ucd.ie, t: +353 1 716 2237.

Gaia images: Gaia related images are available via http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia_overview

Editors Notes

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. www.esa.int/ESA

Gaia’s mission is to monitor each of its target stars about 70 times over a five-year period. It will precisely chart their positions, distances, movements, and changes in brightness. It is expected to discover hundreds of thousands of new celestial objects, such as extra-solar planets and brown dwarfs, and observe hundreds of thousands of asteroids within our own Solar System. The mission will also study about 500,000 distant quasars and will provide stringent new tests of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia_overview

Gaia fact sheet www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Gaia/Gaia_factsheet

UCD MSc in Space Science and Technology is ideal for any graduate of Science, Engineering, Computing or Mathematics who wants to apply their expertise in the Space sector. www.ucd.ie/physics/spacescience/

‌The UCD Commercialisation Bootcamp is an exciting commercialisation support programme held twice a year at NovaUCD. The objective of the 5-week programme, which was completed in 2014 by the founders of Parameter Space is to help equip UCD and NCAD academic researchers, staff and postgraduate research students with the knowledge, skills and understanding of the commercialisation process. www.ucd.ie/innovation/researchers/commercialisationbootcamp/