Ireland has finally joined the space age. Eirsat-1, the State’s first satellite, was carried into space on Friday evening on board a Falcon 9 Space X rocket which launched from California.
There were celebrations at mission control in UCD in Dublin where the satellite - which resembles a Battenberg cake in size and shape - was designed and constructed by dozens of students over the last six years.
The initial celebrations were tempered by a nerve-jangling two-hour wait to make contact with the satellite after it was disgorged from the mother ship and sent into orbit.
The team was unable to make contact as it first passed over Ireland shortly after 9pm on Friday evening, but was hopeful of doing so during subsequent flypasts, via its ground stations in Kerry and Dublin.
Just before 10.30pm UCD tweeted that a signal from the satellite had been received.
“It’s emotional,” said Maeve Doyle, a PhD student and lead software engineer. “It’s surreal, to be honest. Six years of work has got us to the point. It’s hard to believe.”
Sheila McBreen, a professor in UCD’s school of physics, who is part of the academic and professional leadership team, was also on a high.
“I’m feeling a sense of calm and overall pride and excitement over what happens next,” she said.
In all, some 50 UCD students, including nine PhDs and nine MA students, have produced 23 research publications to date out of its construction. It has taken 20,000 hours of testing and problem solving to get it to this stage.
The satellite – is carrying three experiments, including a gamma ray detector that will study some of the most luminous explosions in the universe.
Another experiment involves measuring temperature modification in space via its alternative checkerboard panels on the top of the satellite.
There will be a third experiment on wave-based control, which is an innovative means of ensuring that satellites in space are pointed in the right direction.
Speaking in advance of the launch, UCD president Prof Orla Feely said many students will be proud to see a “little piece of Ireland, a little piece of UCD” in the night sky.
“The technical challenge of packing everything into that little space is amazing. Space is the gateway for so many students in science and engineering.”
It is, she said paraphrasing the immortal words of Neil Armstrong, one small step for the Irish space industry, but the start of something huge.