Featured Article 18 Jun 2015

Catching everyone off guard, including space commentator Leo Enright who hosted the panel where McKenna-Lawlor broached the subject, the idea soon took hold, with the audience joining in to brainstorm the project.

This wasn’t just some outlandish claim though, not when you look at the pedigree Prof McKenna-Lawlor – a director with Space Technology Ireland Ltd (STIL) – has in this field.

In her time with STIL (she is there since its creation in 1986) Prof McKenna-Lawlor has overseen projects that have built instrumentation launched by ESA, NASA and the Chinese, Indian and Russian space agencies.

One of STIL’s most notable projects was with the Rosetta Mission, which saw a spacecraft chase down a comet for years, before landing a probe (Philae) on its surface.

You may remember it as that time last winter when absolutely everybody reawakened their love of space exploration for Philae’s descentlanding, and sleepy demise – it’s okay, Philae is awake again!

For Rosetta, the company designed, constructed and tested the onboard Electrical Support System (ESS) processor unit and when Philae was on the comet, the system played a key role in passing the streams of commands and data between the Rosetta spacecraft and the instruments on the Lander.

A space race in Ireland? Sign. Me. Up.

“Since the success of the lander depends on the successful acquisition of scientific data from the comet nucleus, the ESS is defined to be mission critical hardware,” said Prof McKenna-Lawlor to us a few months before the mission was successfully executed.

So when Prof McKenna-Lawlor suggested that we “build and launch” our own spacecraft, everyone took notice.

Estimates of funding requirements (only €5m) were discussed, sponsors – many of whom would have been in the room watching the discussion – were encouraged and education was addressed.

Having followed a panel of next generation leaders – which included the 10-year-old EU Digital Girl of the Year for 2014, Lauren Boyle, as well as Emer Hickey and Ciara Judge – Prof McKenna-Lawlor spoke of how it is that generation we need to teach.

So many aspects of engineering is different in space, with soldering, textiles and pressure issues all entirely different to building cars or bridges on Earth.

“We should start teaching children in school these skills,” she said.

Everyone, it seemed, agreed.

Gordon Hunt

This article was originally published on www.siliconrepublic.com and can be found at:


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