Susan McKenna-Lawlor: Space Pioneer

Susan Mckenna Lawlor
InspireFest, credit: Conor McCabe

Susan McKenna-Lawlor: Space Pioneer

07 March 2017
3 min read

For Irish astrophysicist Susan McKenna-Lawlor, the sky really is the limit.

With millions of people around the world claiming to have some Irish heritage, you could say that the Irish are a global people. But thanks to Irish astrophysicist Susan McKenna-Lawlor, the influence of the Irish now extends into deep space too. 

The founder and managing director of Space Technology Ireland has made a successful career by creating mission critical space instruments that have been launched by the European Space Agency, NASA, and the space agencies of Russia, China and India.

Perhaps McKenna-Lawlor’s most famous contribution to space exploration is Space Technology Ireland’s Electrical Support System (ESS), employed by the European Space Agency’s comet-chasing Rosetta mission.

Rosetta was the first spacecraft to orbit a comet and then the first to deploy a lander when its counterpart Philae touched down on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014. 
 

Susan has created mission critical space instruments that have been launched by the European Space Agency, NASA, and the space agencies of Russia, China and India.

The Irish-made ESS instrument facilitated communications between Rosetta and Philae during its information gathering stage on the comet nucleus, giving humans a never-before-seen glimpse into the inner workings of a comet. 

After travelling nearly eight billion kilometres in space, the mission finished with a bang (as Rosetta made an ‘assisted’ crash-landing on the comet) on 30 September, 2016. 

Professor McKenna-Lawlor certainly has an impressive CV, including her role as principal investigator (what Earth-bound folks would call team leader) for a number of international missions, including Ireland’s EPONA experiment on the Giotto mission to Halley’s Comet in 1986. 

The Irish experiment, its name an acronym for ‘Energetic Particle Onset Admonitor’ but also the name of a Celtic goddess, gathered crucial measurements of the famous comet and was the first Irish instrument flown by the European Space Agency.

McKenna-Lawlor has also sent Irish-made technology on a Russian mission to Mars and ESA missions to Venus and the Moon, and will see others make their way to Jupiter and Mercury in the coming years.

Proving that Irish innovation has the power to extend beyond the diaspora on Earth, McKenna-Lawlor continues to blaze a trail in space science that reaches for the stars.