Irish innovation helps fuel an exciting space mission

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Webb follows the NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope in the tradition of large space observatories. Both have different scientific capacities and will work in parallel, complementing each other, for several years. In fact, the Webb has the ability to do much more than the Hubble, as it has over six times the light gathering capacity and is a hundred times more sensitive, with the ability to peer through clouds of dust in capturing light in the infrared. part of the spectrum. By rethinking the early Universe using infrared detectors, Webb hopes to answer some vital questions about the formation of our Universe, the composition of so-called dark matter, and how the development of galaxies may tell us about the future of the Universe. Universe.

There was a significant Irish contribution in the development of infrared detector technology. Professor Tom Ray of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) was co-principal investigator for the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) on Webb, which will produce images and spectra with unprecedented clarity and sensitivity. Professor Ray and his team at DIAS have also provided MIRI’s infrared filters, which break down light into its various components, and imaging software that will analyze the instrument’s data sent back to Earth and produce scientific images. The success of these companies in this revolutionary project underlines the growing opportunities in the commercial space market for innovative Irish companies with exciting technologies that can also be used in many different industries, such as automotive and medical. These opportunities will only multiply as our understanding of the space grows and develops – and we are confident that more Irish companies will be involved in such exciting projects in the future.

The essential roles played by these Irish entities in the development of this huge space project were made possible by Ireland’s membership of ESA, which is managed by the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Use. Enterprise Ireland supports and guides Irish companies and research institutes in developing technology through ESA programs and in bringing these technologies to the global space market, with over 100 companies supported to date. Bryan Rogers is Enterprise Ireland’s delegate to the European Space Agency.

A second Irish company, Nammo Ireland, has provided structural supports for the Vulcain engine that powers Ariane 5 – and will be involved in the production of components for the Vulcain and Vinci engines on the new Ariane 6 launcher. carefully transported to the ESA spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, where it was launched on Christmas Day on an Ariane 5 launcher. Here an Irish company played a major role: Réaltra Space Systems Engineering designed and manufactured the video imaging system aboard the Ariane 5 launcher, which provided us with impressive high definition video images of the separation of the launcher fairing and the separation of the telescope itself. . The final images of Webb moving in space on Christmas Day came from Réaltra’s technology. Interestingly, Réaltra’s system was originally designed for the Ariane 6 launcher, which is due to make its maiden flight in the second half of 2022.

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