Eirsat-1 launch: all you need to know about Ireland’s first satellite

Irish satellite will carry equipment for three experiments as well as helping to fill a space industry skills gap

Why is today important?

Sixty-six years after the Soviet Union first put a satellite into space and 54 years after the United States landed a man on the moon, Ireland finally joins the space race.

Tell us more?

At 6.18pm (9.18am California time) Ireland’s first satellite, Educational Irish Research Satellite-1 (Eirsat-1), will be launched into space on board of a Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket which will take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Ireland will then join the more than 80 countries that have launched a satellite into space. The satellite is expected to deploy in orbit an hour and 20 minutes later at which time we will know if it works or not.

When Eirsat-1 reaches orbit, there will be a wait of about an hour and half before it is released and then another hour and a half before it begins the antenna deployment. The team expect to hear from EIRSAT-1 when it passes over the UCD ground station within a few hours of launch. Contact may not happen on the first pass but there will be multiple passes tonight and tomorrow morning. The main aim in the early phase of operations will be checking the health of the satellite. This is called the launch and early operations phase that will last for a number of weeks. Once the health of the mission is established, the experiments will be turned on and the team will get scientific data.

What is Eirsat-1?

Eirsat-1 is known as a CubeSat as it shaped like a cube. It’s incredibly small, not much bigger than a house brick, but also incredibly sophisticated. It carries on board equipment to carry out three experiments, one on gamma ray radiation, a second on temperature regulation in space and a third on how to orient satellites in the right direction.


Who developed it?

The Educational Irish Research Satellite-1 (Eirsat-1) is a project led by students in University College Dublin and costs €1.5 million, a bargain when it is considered that more than 50 students were involved and testing the satellite took 20,000 man hours.

“For so many of the young students, they will be proud to see a little piece of Ireland, a little piece of UCD in the night sky. It will be amazing,” UCD president Prof Orla Feely said this week.

“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.

What is the purpose of the satellite?

The first is to develop the know-how of the Irish higher education sector in space science and engineering, by training students in space mission development and operations.

A second aim is to address skills shortages in the space sector by fostering collaboration between student teams and industry, which is fulfilled through collaboration with industry partners.

The final aim of the mission is to inspire the next generation of students towards the study of STEM subjects, through an extensive outreach programme.

What message will it bring from Ireland?

Just as Voyager 1 included a phonograph record capturing sounds and images from Earth, EIRSAT-1 will include a poem which is a collaboration involved teenage students around the country.

It will be engraved on the antenna module in a formation like a spiral galaxy and is called All Ways Home.

All Ways Home

A lone pilot searching for home amid starry frescos,

And little blood waves that mimic the tide-pull.

Our insignificance! Our planet a crumb on the fabric of spacetime,

Sharing the same sky, you and I, wherever feet are anchored.

I will write your name on the moon with my fingertips,

An apparition cast from memory’s design.

Universe-whisper, orange as goldfish.

All I want is the delicious scent, the dark blue muddy shoes

and ruined grass of starlight, home.

Strawberry moon in the cloudless, blue black mystic, one day it could all be rain.

Those wind-swept words; voices clutched to our warmth,

Courage plucked from conversation.

Breezebreath, feel the blush dust my cheeks, the stars like old photos.

Leave the porch light on. The children dance, their mothers sing.

Everything changes all at once, the sky, the sun.

Bound with images of mystery, like lemongrass and sleep, except for the tree.

I look up. I see stars. They live forever inside me.

Home is the wild bitterness of backyard blackberries,

A bay tree, its fragrant leaves,

Breathing easy,

A smell so familiar it has none.

Where can we watch the satellite launch?

Coverage of the satellite launch will take place from 6pm Irish time on the European Space Agency (ESA) website with commentary by Rick O’Shea.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times