IRISH companies have distinguished themselves in European Space Agency (ESA) programmes by developing innovative technologies capable of performing in the extreme environment of space. That’s according to Dr. Franco Ongaro, director of technical and quality management at ESA and head of the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Holland.
Dr. Ongaro is the guest speaker at Enterprise Ireland’s forum on the benefits of Irish membership of ESA which is taking place in CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Cork today (Friday).
Sean Sherlock T.D. Minister for Research and Innovation launched a report on the impact of Irish research and innovation in Space technologies titled “Ireland’s Space Endeavours’ at the forum. Published by Enterprise Ireland it features 19 case studies on companies that have successfully engaged in European Space Agency programmes.
Speaking to the companies and researchers who are at the forefront of Ireland’s space endeavours, Minister Sherlock said “the overall objective of the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs is to get the Irish economy back on the right path to sustainable, export-driven, innovative and enterprise-led growth. Ireland’s participation in the ESA space programmes can be seen in the context of an ongoing industrial stimulus and has provided an effective means for Irish researchers and companies, many of them SMEs, to develop new opportunities in space related and other markets.”
Minister Sherlock said that engaging with ESA has provided Irish companies with very real commercial benefits. “The most recent figures show that the level of spin-off export sales* from Irish investment in ESA was €35million per annum and is projected to grow substantially as the number of Irish companies securing ESA contracts continues to expand” he said.
Ireland’s membership of ESA is funded by the Irish Government and is managed by Enterprise Ireland. Membership of ESA enables Irish research institutes and companies to participate in ESA programmes and secure valuable contracts for technology developments that can be commercially exploited
ESA is Europe’s gateway to space and Enterprise Ireland manages Irish participation in ESA programmes. Tony McDonald, Enterprise Ireland said, “Over the past 10 years, 80 Irish companies have secured contracts with ESA that have exceeded €80M in value. But the real value has been created through the application of space technologies to non-space markets. This ability to innovate and convert technologies to terrestrial applications such as healthcare, emergency response, and environmental monitoring is where Irish companies excel”.
One example of the industrial benefit of Ireland’s contribution to ESA is the role of an Irish company in today’s planned docking of the first ever commercial flight to the International Space Station. SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft aboard its Falcon 9 rocket from their Cape Canaveral launch site on Tuesday morning and at lunchtime today (Friday) the European astronaut André Kuipers will use the International Space Station’s robotic arm to guide this first commercial cargo ship to berth at the station with millimetre precision while travelling at 25,000 km/h around the Earth. The equipment used to monitor the systems and performance on board the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launcher during this historic mission were developed and supplied by the Dublin based Curtiss Wright Controls Avionics & Electronics. The specialised data handling electronics were developed and characterised for use in space with the assistance of Irish ESA funding through Enterprise Ireland and are being exported for use in many other European and US space missions.
Outlining future opportunities for Irish companies in the space industry Dr. Ongaro said, “Irish companies have distinguished themselves, particularly in the fields of electronics, software, materials and propulsion,” adding that the areas where Irish companies are active right now are those which are likely to continue to grow.
Mr Ongaro sees Irish companies playing a key role in the space agency’s busy schedule ahead – including rolling out the Galileo satellite navigation system, supplying human spaceflight missions and a range of telecommunication and science missions.
“Space has been growing very rapidly in the past few years and it is really becoming part of every citizen’s daily life. I’m sure that Ireland will be more and more involved due to the innovation and competence of its companies. There are certainly new and more important fields of space applications that we can expect Irish companies to contribute to,” he concluded