Satellite technology secures Ireland’s place in space race

Irish companies are working on projects to advance less expensive space exploration

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 01:50

The modern space race is better likened to price wars between Tesco and Lidl than any geopolitical rivalries empires might have had in the past.

We already know how to do a lot of stuff in space (clearly this reporter is an expert in the field). Communications, space travel, GPS, etc. The challenge now is to make these rapidly developing sectors a little less Marks & Sparks so that we might all live “a Lidl” more.

Okay, it’s not that simple. We are still dealing in the tens of millions of euro range for many satellite projects. Today, the image data market – that companies such as Digital Globe work in – is worth about $1.5 billion a year. Digital broadcasting and space and communications consulting firm Euroconsult estimates this will reach about $3.6 billion by 2023.

But many ubiquitous services the average person relies upon depend on commercial satellite technology. So innovators must find ways to provide satellite-based services such as broadband, mobile phone communications and GPS, without breaking the bank.

Synergy is the word. Space-based anything has always been an expensive game. So if you can find technology originally designed for another purpose and apply it in the commercial satellite sector then you’re on to a winner.

“There are several examples of how Irish companies are bringing innovative technologies from non-space to space and in so doing reducing the costs, while achieving performance and reliability requirements for space,” says Tony McDonald, of the Irish delegation to the European Space Agency (ESA) at Enterprise Ireland.

SensL, a Cork-based SME, develops advanced silicon photomultipliers (SiPM), sensors that are used with extremely low levels of light and are deployed in various sectors including medical imaging and hazard and threat detection. However, in 2013 SensL secured a contract with the ESA to begin the development of the next-generation sensor for future space science missions.

Irish surface technology company Enbio had been working in the medical sector. But In 2012 it signed a contract with the ESA worth €500,000 to develop a “proprietary surface treatment for use as a ‘sunscreen’ to protect satellites as they travel through space.”

“The types of interfaces used in cars are now being used in satellites, as they are much cheaper and have been proven to withstand harsh conditions,” says Barry Kavanagh of start-up OCE Technology, based in Bray, Co Wicklow. OCE designs software tools to support companies developing embedded systems for the space and aerospace industries.

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