A Scots space academic is sharing his expertise to help fuel space sector ambitions in Ireland.

Professor Malcolm Macdonald, Chair of Applied Space Technology at the University of Strathclyde, supported the development of Scotland’s first spacecraft, UKube-1 , which was launched in 2014.

Since then, along with Strathclyde colleagues, he has been instrumental in supporting the development of the Scottish space sector. Scotland is an international space sector success story, growing from just a handful of space companies 15 years ago to more than 130 – including more than 80 UK space industry firms headquartered in Scotland, producing more satellites than anywhere else outside of the US.

Professor Macdonald, who was also a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Space Agency, was installed as Visiting Professor of University College Dublin earlier this year. He visited UCD’s Centre for Space Research (C-Space) to discuss ongoing research and innovation, share knowledge and experience on space projects and discuss space research strategy.

Professor Macdonald has helped the University engage with the Irish Government and to develop a broader national strategy for developing the space sector.

Nanosatellite missions

UCD and Strathclyde are also collaborating on a Science Foundation Ireland Frontiers for the Future project, led by Professor Lorraine Hanlon, which involves system modelling, payloads and materials to allow future nanosatellite missions to build on the work of EIRSAT-1.

Professor Macdonald said: “Scotland now has over 170 organisations involved in the space sector, which has grown by two thirds since 2014-15.

“The Scottish space success story has proven the direct link between funding for space research and growth in successful space activity. I welcome UCD’s increasing space activity including EIRSAT-1, the recent CAMEO award and the continuing space-related work across many schools.”

Professor Macdonald’s visit coincided with World Space Week, during which he and members of the C-Space team met with national level policymakers to share insights from the successful Scottish space industry and discuss opportunities for Ireland through the National Space Strategy for Enterprise.

The global space sector – including technology, communications and Earth observation – which benefits industries such as transport and agriculture, as well as climate change monitoring, has been growing by five per cent per year on average and is forecast to be worth $1 trillion by 2040.

Space companies

CAMEO and EIRSAT-1 were among the projects discussed during the visit. EIRSAT-1 is an educational satellite development programme under C-Space’s Nanosatellites and Payloads research theme and will build, test, launch and operate Ireland’s first satellite, and will perform in-orbit demonstrations of three novel payloads developed in UCD.

The team has already developed space systems skills that did not previously exist in Irish industry or academia. Ireland is the only full member of ESA that does not have its own satellite but that will be rectified when EIRSAT-1 is delivered to ESA.

Professor Macdonald highlighted the growing trend of space companies as data companies, and Ireland’s strengths in data analysis will be complemented by knowledge and experience from space projects. By prioritising space research, Ireland can attract the next generation of big tech to the country while doing impactful research and developing indigenous industry. 

Professor Lorraine Hanlon said: “This was the continuation of a very fruitful relationship between University College Dublin and the University of Strathclyde.

“Malcolm’s leading role in the growth of Scottish space research and innovation and experience in both nanosatellites and Earth Observation speaks to two major research themes of C-Space and we look forward to further conversation.”