In the first of a series of planned visits, Professor Malcolm Macdonald from University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, visited UCD’s Centre for Space Research (C-Space) to discuss ongoing research and innovation, share knowledge and experience on space projects and discuss space research strategy.
Professor Macdonald is Chair of Applied Space Technology at the University of Strathclyde, formerly a non-executive board member of the UK Space Agency, and supported the development of Scotland’s first spacecraft, UKube-1, which was launched in 2014.
UCD and University of Strathclyde are also collaborating on a Science Foundation Ireland Frontiers for the Future project, led by Professor Lorraine Hanlon, which involves system modelling, payloads and materials to allow future nanosatellite missions to build on the work of EIRSAT-1.
Professor Macdonald’s visit coincided with Space Week (4-10 October) in Ireland, during which he and members of the UCD C-Space team met with national level policymakers to share insights from the successful Scottish space industry and discuss opportunities for Ireland through the National Space Strategy for Enterprise.
The global space sector – including technology, communications and Earth observation (which benefits industries such as transport and agriculture, as well as climate change monitoring) – has been growing by five per cent per year on average and is forecast to be worth €1 trillion by 2040.
Professor Macdonald and Strathclyde colleagues were instrumental in supporting the development of the Scottish space sector. Scotland is an international space sector success story, growing from just a handful of space companies 15 years ago to now over 130 – including more than 80 UK space industry firms headquartered in Scotland, producing more satellites than anywhere else outside of the US.
Professor Macdonald said: “Scotland now has over 170 organisations involved in the space sector, which has grown by two thirds since 2014-15. The Scottish space success story has proven the direct link between funding for space research and growth in successful space activity. I welcome UCD's increasing space activity including EIRSAT-1, the recent CAMEO award and the continuing space-related work across many schools.”
CAMEO and EIRSAT-1 were among the projects discussed during the visit. The latter – an educational satellite development programme under UCD C-Space’s Nanosatellites and Payloads research theme – was on tour in Belgium during space week, at the European Space Agency (ESA) Education Centre’s CubeSat Support Facility running tests on the spacecraft.
The project will build, test, launch and operate Ireland's first satellite, and will perform in-orbit demonstrations of three novel payloads developed in UCD.
The team has already developed space systems skills that did not previously exist in Irish industry or academia. This work positions Ireland to benefit from global space growth expected in the coming decades and will inspire the next generation of students, especially through the project’s extensive outreach programme.
Ireland is the currently the only full member of ESA that does not have its own satellite but that will be rectified when EIRSAT-1 is delivered to ESA.
Speaking from the ESA Education Centre in Redu, Belgium, researcher and EIRSAT-1 Systems Engineer Dr David Murphy said: “It’s exciting to be at ESA Education’s CubeSat Support Facility during Space Week with Ireland’s first satellite, EIRSAT-1. The team is spending five weeks here to perform important environmental testing on the spacecraft. It has been shaken to simulate launch on a rocket and it is now being tested in the thermal vacuum chamber which subjects it to extreme hot and cold temperatures in a vacuum environment, just as it will experience during spaceflight. It’s incredible to see the project reach this very important milestone and to think about how far we have come since we first imagined EIRSAT-1.”
Professor Macdonald highlighted the growing trend of space companies as data companies, and Ireland’s strengths in data analysis will be complemented by knowledge and experience from space projects. By prioritising space research, Ireland can attract the next generation of big tech to the country while doing impactful research and developing indigenous industry.
Professor Lorraine Hanlon commented: “This was the continuation of a very fruitful relationship between University College Dublin and the University of Strathclyde. Malcolm’s leading role in the growth of Scottish space research and innovation and experience in both nanosatellites and Earth Observation speaks to two major research themes of C-Space and we look forward to further conversation.”