24 March 2017
By Elaine Murphy
November Alfa One Sierra Sierra (NA1SS) – do you copy? Students from Cork ETB school, Glanmire Community College and Tallaght Community School will make history this year, as they have been announced as the first Irish schools who will make direct radio contact with the International Space Station (ISS) while in orbit. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station programme (ARISS), which will see Irish students from both schools speaking with Italian astronaut Paulo Nespoli while he orbits the Earth on the ISS.
For a brief timeframe during Expedition 52 and 53, Nespoli and the rest of the crew on the ISS will be traveling at 27,600 km/h and for 6 to 12 minutes will be passing directly over Tallaght Community School and then a day or two later directly above Glanmire Community College. In order to carry out this real-time Earth-to-space radio contact, which uses amateur radio equipment to beam a line-of-sight signal to the ISS, the schools will set up a temporary radio station on the grounds which will include an antenna, two radio systems and a back-up line diverted via Belgium or Italy, incase of interference locally, which will allow students to speak directly with Nespoli while he takes a break from his duties and experiments on board the ISS. The closer the space station flies to the Tallaght and Glanmire schools the stronger and clearer the audio feed will get. At one point during this fantastic feat of broadcast engineering, the ISS will be 400km in the sky directly above the schools.
Amateur Radio is a hobby which facilitates the learning of how radio technology works, communicating with others and investigating the mysteries of long distance communication. ARISS is a global voluntary group that formalised a programme for utilising radio equipment on-board the ISS as a channel for further educating schools across the world on the work of the international space programme, life on-board the ISS, expeditions which astronauts are undertaking and amateur radio. This is a highly competitive programme that receives thousands of applications from schools across the globe. Every six months the application process opens, enabling schools to apply to be chosen as one of the select few to make space contact six or 12 months later. Schools in the home country of the specific astronaut on a given expedition, which in this case is Italian Paulo Nespoli, receive 70 percent of the limited number of these contact events a year and so for countries such as Ireland, it is extremely difficult to be chosen.
After applying for the second time to this amazing science programme, Cork ETB’s Glanmire Community College was thrilled to be successfully chosen this year due to the quality of their education application proposal, which showcased their innovation in the area of science and in particular space science, putting them light years ahead of competing schools. Their jam-packed education plan, which will be integrated into students’ curriculum in preparation for event take off, also set them apart from the competition. Tallaght Community School were a stand out choice due to their Inspiring Science Education initiative which promotes hands on, inquiry-based and collaborative learning. It provides the tools to make science education more challenging, playful and above all more imaginative and inspiring for today’s students. Teachers at Tallaght Community School are also members of the Galileo Teacher Training Programme which creates a series of professional development activities designed to help teachers and educators to learn and create resources on big topics in Astronomy and Planetary science.
This ‘out of this world encounter’ will be an extra special experience for all students involved and will awaken in them an interest in a variety of ‘new frontiers’ including space, astronomy, engineering, broadcasting and amateur radio. In the months leading up to the radio contact, both schools have a brimming programme of fun and interesting events planned to prepare students. For students of Glanmire Community College this line-up includes a visit from the Blackrock Observatory Stardome mobile planetarium, as well as a host of space-themed competitions, including one to choose the questions that will be directed to the Italian astronaut. The school will be showing 3D footage from inside the International Space Station, organised through the Northern Ireland Space Office, while students from Tallaght Community School will be making trips to Dunsink Observatory in Blanchardstown and the state-of-the art Armagh Observatory.
Along with these amazing trips and talks staff at both schools are planning cross-curricular events and lesson topics to promote the ISS across a multitude of subjects. Aside from the Sciences, subject departments such as Music and Art have developed programmes in the lead-up to the contact. While subjects like Home Economics will focus on what foods astronauts consume and students will be taught basic Italian, the native language of Nespoli. It is envisaged that these events and additions to classes will enhance the learning experience and build momentum ahead of this phenomenal opportunity
Speaking with excitement at this announcement, Principal of Glanmire Community College Ronan McCarthy said: “I speak on behalf of myself, Principal Teresa Hennessy of Tallaght Community School and all the students and staff at both schools when I say that our excitement levels have hit another stratosphere! We are extremely proud of the science programmes which our schools offer and are delighted that it has been recognised globally with this amazing opportunity. We are excited to further blast off into the sphere of science with a whole spectrum of exciting mini events and projects in preparation for actual space contact. This is an opportunity and experience which our students will never forget.”
Due to the uncertain nature of life in outer space, an exact date for these two contacts cannot be given. However, the Cork and Dublin students will be notified and placed on standby and given details of the month of contact, which will be narrowed down to a week before an exact date and time is confirmed. Working with the students and staff of both schools, Daniel Cussen, ARISS Radio Technical Co-ordinator will be on-hand to ensure their temporary mission control radio station is up and functioning. Speaking at this announcement Daniel Cussen commented: “I am thrilled for both Glanmire Community College and Tallaght Community School to be awarded this fantastic honour and educational experience. I have worked with many schools in Europe to facilitate contact with the ISS, but as an Irishman I am delighted to be working with Irish students as they leave their mark in history as the first students to make direct space contact. Amateur radio is an area which I am extremely passionate about and I am so excited to share this passion with these students, which will hopefully inspire some of them to follow in my footsteps.”
Above: Ireland’s National Space Centre is located in Elfordstown, East Cork
This project and event involves immense preparation and planning, which would not be possible without the support of Cork Education and Training Board, The National Space Centre, Blackrock Observatory, Dunsink Observatory, Armagh Observatory and of course, ARISS. Niall Smith, CIT Head of Research and Head of Blackrock Castle Observatory commented on this fantastic Irish project “Blackrock Castle Observatory is delighted to be involved in the school’s link to the International Space Station during Space Week and to explain the science that makes space missions such as this possible. Science is constantly challenging the bounds of possibility and exciting events such as speaking with an astronaut in orbit around Earth offer invaluable insights to students about space exploration, as well as inspiring students about the many exciting opportunities brought by studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.”