Ireland’s first satellite: EIRSAT-1

Rachel Dunwoody

Posted: 7 October, 2020

EIRSAT-1 is Ireland’s first satellite. A team of students in UCD are designing, building, testing and will launch this satellite as part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Fly Your Satellite! Programme.

EIRSAT-1 stands for the Educational Irish Research Satellite 1. It is a satellite about the size of a shoe box, called a CubeSat. It is a small scale satellite but still needs the same functionality as a large mission. The satellite must be able to power itself, orientate itself in space, communicate to the ground station being built on the roof of the UCD School of Physics and collect data from the three science experiments on-board.

The first experiment is a novel gamma-ray detector, GMOD, which is being developed in UCD. GMOD will detect gamma-rays from both cosmic and atmospheric phenomena. The second experiment, EMOD, consists of a payload developed with Irish company, ENBIO Ltd., to monitor the in-flight performance of their thermal spacecraft treatments, SolarWhite and SolarBlack. The third experiment, Wave Based Control (WBC), is a novel attitude control algorithm, developed in the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, which will be tested for the first time in space on EIRSAT-1.

In February, the payloads, GMOD and EMOD, and the antenna deployment module were qualified for space flight. In the last year, the payloads have been subject to environmental testing at the ESA CubeSat Support Facilities in Belgium. During the lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions, the team has been operating the satellite remotely. The satellite hardware must be kept in a ISO Level 8 cleanroom in a lab in the UCD School of Physics. Hairnets, gloves and anti-static coats have to be worn to prevent dust and contaminants landing on the satellite components. A private YouTube stream is used to monitor the hardware in the cleanroom and Discord is used for operators to converse during satellite testing and share screens to see the outputs of the on-board computer.

This remote access has allowed us to continue flight software development and test on the real satellite hardware. Currently, two students, Maeve Doyle and Rachel Dunwoody, are organising a series of “Mini Mission Tests” to develop the satellite operations procedures and prepare for the full Mission Test. Maeve , an IRC funded 2nd year PhD student is head of On-Board Software development for EIRSAT-1 and is a Flight Operations developer.

“During Mission Tests, we imagine that the satellite is in space, so we cannot physically interact with the satellite. These tests help us to prepare for real mission scenarios we could encounter after the launch of EIRSAT-1 and to develop our operations manual. ” – Maeve Doyle

Rachel is an IRC funded 1st Year PhD student, she is a member of the GMOD team and is a Flight Operations developer. She will focus on the functional testing of GMOD.

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be on a student-led team that is developing the first Irish satellite. I never imagined I would get this amazing experience so early on in my career.” – Rachel Dunwoody

EIRSAT-1 is a student-led project. Students are from a wide range of disciplines in the UCD School of Physics, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and the UCD School of Computer Science. EIRSAT-1 provides them with a unique opportunity to take responsibility and leadership roles while being supported by industry partners and academic mentors. David Murphy is the Systems Engineer and provides technical support to the team. David oversees the design, testing and integration of all parts of the satellite. He is currently a postdoc in UCD and completed his IRC funded PhD focussing on the development of GMOD.

“The most satisfying part of working on EIRSAT-1 is that it’s brought together a large team of really dedicated students from across the University that are all focused on working together to turn our individual research topics into something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.” – David Murphy

Joseph Thompson, an IRC funded final year PhD student, is the Chief Engineer of EIRSAT-1. His work focuses on the ADCS (Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem) of EIRSAT-1 and the WBC experiment.

During my PhD I have had the opportunity to work with students, staff and industry professionals in the Irish space sector as part of my involvement in the EIRSAT-1 mission. “ – Joseph Thompson

The Irish Research Council has also funded three further students, Gianluca Fontanesi who works on the Communications team, Joseph Flanagan who worked on the EMOD team and Favour Okosun who worked on the mechanical modelling of the satellite.

This project is a brilliant learning opportunity for the students. The team has the unique opportunity of practical experience in designing, testing, building and launching a satellite. A key objective of the mission is education of students both within and outside the team. Lána Salmon, an IRC funded 3rd year PhD student, is a member of the Communications team, which works to ensure two-way communications between the ground and the satellite. Lána also leads the EIRSAT-1 Outreach activities. She is passionate about communicating science to the public.

“One particular aspect of the project that I enjoy is the opportunity to share the ground-breaking story of Ireland’s first satellite with the public. Space is engaging for kids and adults alike, and the talks, events and school visits have allowed me to contribute to the project through an activity that I really enjoy. “ – Lána Salmon

The next big milestone for EIRSAT-1 is the building of the Engineering Qualification Model and subjecting it to rigorous testing to qualify the design of the satellite. Keep up to date with EIRSAT-1 by following them on Twitter @EIRSAT1 and Instagram @eirsat1!

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