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Irish company Techworks Marine lands major space contract

Irish marine science and technology company TechWorks Marine has secured a contract to lead a European Space Agency (ESA) research project on monitoring coastal outlets.

Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin-based TechWorks Marine is to lead the ESA earth observation project. Earth observation is the gathering of information about the earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems from satellites orbiting the planet.

Today’s news is the first time that such a project will be led by an Irish group. It comes as a result of four years’ work by TechWorks Marine, while Enterprise Ireland also helped secure the project.

Minister of State for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD, said today that the win was a “significant” one for TechWorks Marine. “It clearly indicates that Irish SMEs have the capability and expertise to lead projects in this highly competitive sector,” he said.

TechWorks Marine itself was set up in 2002 by Charlotte O’Kelly and Philip Trickett. The company specialises in the development of real-time marine data platforms for clients in the maritime industry.

For the ESA project, TechWorks will be pioneering satellite earth observation products for developers and operators of wastewater treatment plants and desalination plants, with the aim of helping them reduce their environmental impact.

Specifically, the project will be looking at the coastal effects of wastewater treatment plants in Ireland, especially in Donegal Bay.

O’Kelly, managing director of TechWorks Marine, said that coastal zones are highly complex to monitor from space. This, she said, was due to the close proximity of coastal areas to land and also the sensor pixel resolution of the images.

However, O’Kelly said improvements in sensor technology mean it is now possible to develop earth observation products specifically aimed at areas of coastal activity.

“These products can be used to analyse the effect of wastewater treatment plant outfalls in the coastal environment, or ensure that water close to the intakes of desalination plants does not have harmful algal blooms which could be a health hazard to humans,” she explained.

O’Kelly also said the ESA contract has enabled TechWorks to recruit new staff with specific earth-observation expertise. The plan is to grow this team in the coming months.

During the project, she said TechWorks Marine will be working with companies such as the Veolia group, which manages three wastewater plants in Donegal, to help them develop products.

Dr Barry Fennell from Enterprise Ireland said today that more than 80 Irish companies have secured ESA contracts worth in excess of €80m since 2002.

“Ireland is currently developing significant expertise in using data collected by satellites orbiting the earth to understand climate change, detection of illegal waste dump sites, prediction of volcanic ash clouds and tracking of vessels to assist in drug interdiction,” he said.