UCD opened Ireland’s first dedicated centre for space-related research, innovation, and education last month. C-Space brings together academics and researchers across the University who work on different aspects of Space such as Engineering, Astrophysics, Geophysics, Remote Sensing, and Earth Observation.

The centre is also home to EIRSTAT-1, the first Irish-built satellite. Similar in size to the average shoebox, this miniature satellite will conduct a number of experiments that detect astrophysical phenomena such as gamma-rays which occur when stars die or collide and are considered to be the most energetic explosions in the universe. It will be delivered to the European Space Agency late next year and from there it will be launched into space for a two-year mission.  

The centre aims to conduct space-related research, act as a key national resource for space expertise, inform and support national space policy, foster industry/academic partnerships and to provide training and education.

Speaking to the College Tribune, Centre Director, Professor Lorraine Hanlon of the UCD School of Physics, outlined the domestic benefits of space research. Hanlon explained that meteorology has been using satellite data for more than 40 years to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts and that there are now plans to mainstream this use of global Earth observation into other areas, for example, monitoring air pollution, land use, crop health or water quality. “Taking lake water quality as a specific example – this must be monitored to meet our obligations under the EU Water Framework Directive. 

Being able to get satellite data regularly and reliably, without having to physically go to more than 800 lakes around Ireland to get samples, saves time and money. A significant R&D effort is needed to ensure proper validation of the satellite data with the ‘ground truth’ quantity being measured. Once this is achieved, the satellite data can be used for operational services and long-term monitoring of trends. Forecasting the occurrence of harmful algal blooms that may damage fish stocks is now a reality thanks to satellite imagery.” 

C-Space is an interdisciplinary centre with a number of constituent schools who study space-relevant subjects. The centre also offers an MSc in Space Research and Technology which is tailored to translate the skills and experience of graduates from across Physics and Engineering for the space sector. 

When asked to describe the programme Professor Hanlon said: “There is a lot of lab work throughout the year, often involving collaborative team projects. Weekly seminars from space industry professionals help broaden the student’s perspective and give inspiration for future career directions. There are always assignments to be getting on with, as many of the modules are based on continuous assessment.” 

She concluded that the “big focus is on securing the internship for the third trimester, so keeping an eye out and applying for new internship opportunities takes up quite a bit of time.”

Emma Hanrahan – Assistant News Editor