CAN you build a SATellite?
October 2, 2015

Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Discover programme which aims to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among students, teachers and members of the public today welcomed former NASA Astronaut Greg Johnson to DIT, Dublin to launch the Irish part of a European wide secondary schools competition to build a CanSat – a simulation of a satellite which fits into the volume of soft drinks can. This initiative is part of World Space week (Oct.4-10) which is run by the European Space Education Resource Office (ESERO) which Science Foundation Ireland and the European Space Agency co-fund locally.

The prototypes designed by the students will be ‘launched’ at regional and national finals, with increasing technical demands at each stage of the competition. The winning team will go on to represent Ireland in the European final in June 2016.

Niamh Lyons, Interim Director of Communications, Education and Public Engagement at Science Foundation Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland has a broad education and public engagement programme, from SmartFutures (for potential careers) to Science Week (for everyone to experiment, enjoy and learn).  All our activities in this area aim to foster an ongoing interest and participation in science and technology which makes our support of World Space Week very relevant as at practical level with mentor support, students really can get to grips with very exciting technology. We are delighted that we can support World Space Week and hope that as well as the interest this fosters that some of  our transition year participants this year will get to go to Europe to represent Ireland as others have successfully done in the past.’

Commenting on the competition, President of Dublin Institute of Technology, Professor Brian Norton, added: “Satellites are crucial to telecommunications and navigation, down to the personal level of our mobile phones. Yet, despite this, satellite technology is not widely known. This important project represents a real but achievable challenge to secondary school students that will build insight and understanding of one of the key enabling technologies of the modern world.”

Stephanie O’Neill, ESERO Ireland Manager, said: “ESERO Ireland’s aim, with the assistance of the European Space Agency, is to encourage interest in developing further skills that could ultimately go on to support those required by Irish and International companies operating in the space sector. This includes the rich softer skills such as problem solving, teamwork and communications as well as the technical proficiencies required by industry.”

The mission for Transition year, 5th year and 6th year students contains three fundamental objectives. Following a launch by rocket to an altitude of a few hundred meters, the CanSat must;

  1. Fit all the major subsystems found in a satellite such as power, sensors and communications
  2. Provide a parachute to ensure the can has a gentle landing
  3. Carry out scientific experiments such as temperature and air pressure measurements and transmit the data to an earth based computer

Irish students have a distinguished legacy in the CanSat competition having achieved 2nd and 3rd place finishes in previous European competitions. Last year, the winners of the national CanSat competition, a team from Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál in Blarney, Co. Cork, were commended for a stellar performance. They ambitiously chose to develop a state-of-the-art soft landing system for the satellite, deployed via a two-way communication system, as their secondary objective.

Mentors from Athlone Institute of Technology, Cork Institute of Technology, Dublin Institute of Technology, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and Limerick Institute of Technology will be on hand to offer technical assistance for both teachers and students. They will also offer guidance on selection of secondary objectives which in previous years have included using a GPS module to track the CanSat position and measuring wind shear using a custom built anemometer. Teams work together at all stages of the process – designing the CanSat, selecting its mission, integrating the components, testing, preparing for launch, receiving the data on the ground and then analysing and presenting the data to a panel of judges.

CanSat is a joint collaboration between ESERO Ireland (European Space Education Resource Office) and Cork Electronics Industry Association (, and is co-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme. The ESERO, in collaboration with their partners at the Blackrock Castle Observatory will also be running several events throughout World Space Week in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. More information is available at