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New UCD spin-out company wins ESA contract to assist with big data challenges of mapping the Milky Way galaxy

Monday, 16 February, 2015 

Pictured at the UCD School of Physics, University College Dublin, are Professor Lorraine Hanlon, co-founder of Parameter Space; Dr William O'Mullane, Head of Operations Development Division, ESA; and Dr Sheila McBreen, co-founder of Parameter Space.

Parameter Space Ltd, a new UCD spin-out company, has secured funding of €800,000 by the European Space Agency(ESA) to develop new software to exploit the unprecedented volume of data captured by ESA's Gaia satellite.

The satellite, which launched in late 2013, is currently on a €700 million mission to capture data capable of generating a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy. Since July 2014 alone, the satellite has made nearly 100 billion measurements with its 1-billion pixel digital camera.

Over the course of its full mission to measure the precise positions and luminosity of ~1 billion stars and to discover thousands of planets around other stars and supernovae, the Gaia satellites’ database will eventually grow to 1 Petabyte in size which is equivalent to about 200,000 DVDs worth of data.

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

The company was established in 2014 by UCD astrophysicistsProfessor Lorraine Hanlon and Dr Sheila McBreen as a spin-out from the UCD School of Physics, University College Dublin. Before establishing the company they completed a 5-week UCD Commercialisation Bootcamp held at NovaUCD.

Professor Hanlon and Dr McBreen lead the UCD Space Science and Advanced Materials Research Group. Together, they have over 30 years of experience working on space missions, including ESA’s INTEGRAL mission and NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

“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,” said Professor Lorraine Hanlon, UCD School of Physics and co-founder of Parameter Space Ltd.

“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,” added Dr Sheila McBreen, UCD School of Physics and co-founder of Parameter Space Ltd.

Dr William O'Mullane, Head of Operations Development Division, European Space Agency 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.”

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 

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.

UCD MSc in Space Science and Technologyis ideal for any graduate of Science, Engineering, Computing or Mathematics who wants to apply their expertise in the Space sector. 

‌The UCD Commercialisation Bootcamp is a 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.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)