On Saturday (20 February), NASA and Northrop Grumman launched an Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Along with a restock of food and supplies on board the spacecraft, named SS Katherine Johnson, the cargo also included an innovative scientific instrument, built and designed in Ireland.
Reporting for The Irish Times, Séan Duke said the PayLoad Data Router (PLDR) system can measure tiny changes in microgravity and will help the European Space Agency (ESA) conduct experiments in microgravity that would not be possible on Earth.
According to NASA, there are a number of experiments the Cygnus resupply mission will support relating to microgravity.
Researchers plan to use tiny worms to help determine the cause of weakening muscles that astronauts can experience in microgravity. Another experiment will examine sleep quality in microgravity, while a third experiment is testing whether microgravity could optimise the production of artificial retinas from start-up LambdaVision.
The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the ISS until May.
The PLDR will enable ESA researchers to precisely measure the levels of microgravity on the ISS for the remainder of its lifetime in orbit.
The device was manufactured in Dublin by an Irish subsidiary of the US multinational Curtiss-Wright Avionics and Electronics Group, and Réaltra Space Systems Engineering, a division of Realtime Technologies.
In 2018, the PLDR successfully passed its flight acceptance review to enable its launch. According to Enterprise Ireland, this marked the first time an Irish company has been awarded the prime contractor on a system developed for ISS.
In January 2019, Réaltra was awarded a €3.4m contract from German space company OHB System AG to design, develop and deliver the PayLoad Interface Unit (PLIU) for the ESA’s Plato mission due to be launched in 2026. The PLIU will provide the thermal control system for the telescopes.
In June of that same year, Réáltra was awarded a contract of more than €1m from space company ArianeGroup to design, develop and deliver the Independent Video Kit (VIKI) that will provide the on-board live video telemetry from Ariane 6, with the first flight planned for the second quarter of 2022.
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