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Ireland's first ever satellite could blast off as early as 2019 (and it might even have a little flag)

Eirsat-1 will hitch a ride to the ISS before it’s released into space.

Ireland as photographed from ISS.
Ireland as photographed from ISS.
Image: Twitter/Terry Virts

A FIRST EVER Irish-made satellite could be orbiting the planet in early 2019 and may even have a small tricolour on board.

Eirsat-1 will be small, at about the size of a 2 litre Tuppaware box, but it will be completely Irish-built and could be in orbit for up to two years.

The project is being led by the UCD Space Science Group along with students from Queen’s University Belfast with the backing of the Irish Research Council.

It is supported by the European Space Agency and five Irish companies are involved in various technologies on board.

No prototypes have yet been built and the satellite components will have to be made before Eirsat is assembled late next year, but the plans are at an advanced stage.

When it is finished, the satellite will be loaded onto a rocket that’s destined for the International Space Station (ISS). Once aboard ISS it will then be released into space where it’s estimated it will orbit for between nine months to two years.

PhD student from UCD’s School of Space Science and Technology Lána Salmon is working on the project and explains that the small size of the satellite offers both challenges and advantages for the build team.

The advantage of having it so small is that it can go on to rockets very easily. Nasa and ESA have a lot of room on their satellites, we can just chuck it in with one of their payloads that they’re sending up to the International Space Station.

“The ISS then has a NanoRack Deployer, it’s basically like a robotic arm and they put the cubesat into a chamber and it gets picked up by the robotic arm and basically chucked out into space, for want of a better word.”

The ground team at UCD will have some measure of control over the satellite to adjust its orbit and make sure it’s facing the sun.

There are no rockets on the satellite but it can adjust its position using a small magnetic coil that can create a magnetic field that reacts with the magnetic field of the sun.

What will it do?

Once the satellite is in orbit it essentially has three aims. The first is to detect gamma ray bursts and send the information back to the team on the ground.

Gamma ray bursts occur during the death of massive stars and are detected here from galaxies that may be billions of light years away.

“Ours is a very miniaturised gamma ray detector and we hope to detect potentially between 10 and 20 gamma ray bursts while we’re up there and it will be really cool to put something so complicated into something so small,” Salmon says.

The second aim of the satellite is to test UCD developed software which controls the magnetic coil and the third is the testing of EMOD, a type of heat-resistant paint developed by Irish company Enbio.

To communicate with the satellite, a ground station is being built on the roof of UCD’s School of Physics but Ireland’s latitude means that Eirsat will be out of reach for most of the day.

The ground team can only communicate with the satellite when it’s overhead and the team estimates that this will only happen for about six to 30 minutes per day depending on the orbit.

Up to 60 people across the two universities may end up working on the project as long as its live and part of the plan is that these students will gain experience that will advance Ireland’s place in the space industry.

And given its groundbreaking nature, the Eirsat team is keen to mark the huge advancement it will represent. Does that mean there’ll be an Irish flag on the satellite?

“We’re trying to figure out whether we can put paint on the aluminum structure,” Salmon confirms.

But failing that we’re hoping to etch maybe the counties of Ireland onto the structure, we don’t know yet. But we were hoping to put signatures or something like that on there.

“We also have room for an SD card on the satellite, we can put images or something on there. But I would definitely love to see an Irish flag.”

Read: There’s a European plan to have 100 people living on the Moon by 2040 >

Read: An Irish documentary tells the incredible story of the Voyager spacecraft >

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