Rory Fitzpatrick of National Space Centre officially kicked off a fundraising campaign for The Big Dish, a 32-metre, 220 tonne antenna at Elfordstown Earthstation in Midleton, Cork. The campaign at https://bigdish.ie aims to fund urgent remedial preservation works so the Dish can be refitted for a new future as a lunar or Martian communications groundstation or research telescope.
Photography By Gerard McCarthy 087 8537228
As Space Week Ends, Ireland’s Biggest Space Asset Rusts
The Big Dish, an iconic emblem of Ireland’s technological past, turns to YouTube
and the public in hopes of securing a new scientific future.
Monday, 09 October – As Space Week 2023 closes out a national celebration of space technology and
galactic exploration, Ireland’s largest space asset sits idle, quietly rusting in an East Cork field. Set on the
campus of what was formerly Irish Telecom, the 32-metre steel dish was built in the 1980s at a cost of
IR£8M to transmit calls from Ireland to America via satellite before being mothballed by Eircom. Today,
with no government funding available to preserve the 220 tonne structure and give it renewed purpose,
its caretakers are turning to the public to secure a new scientific future for the monolith known as The
Bruce Hannah is the Chief Technology Officer at the National Space Centre (NSC), which acquired the
Dish as part of a land purchase in 2013. Hannah has spent two years assessing both the structural and
mechanical state of the 42-metre-high steel assembly. “At this point the Dish urgently needs upwards of
€60,000 for remedial preservation work. That’s basically a power wash, rust treatment, and a coat of
The high cost is due to the 2500 square meter surface area of the 32-meter monolith. “It’s a lot of
paint,” offered Hannah.
Longer term, NSC CEO Rory Fitzpatrick sees a future filled with stellar possibilities for the iconic dish.
“Realistically, The Big Dish can be retrofitted as a satellite communications groundstation for Martian or
Lunar communications, supporting some of the more than 50 robotic and manned space missions
planned for the next 10 years.” These missions have been announced by international space agencies
including NASA and ESA as well as commercial companies in the NewSpace sector.
Jordan Wright, known as The Angry Astronaut on his 120,000 subscriber YouTube channel, points to
NASA as the perfect example of The Big Dish’s value. “NASA recently completed a new 34-meter dish,
the DSS-53 antenna, which went online in Madrid in 2022. It took 8 years to build and cost €35M. The
Big Dish can be refitted to do the same job in just two years at a cost of only €5M.”
Hannah points out that it is also possible to refit the Dish as a radio telescope to observe and study deep
space. “The Big Dish would be an incredible tool for Irish researchers and for academic institutions
internationally.” With the next largest dish in Ireland half its size, The Big Dish is also Ireland's only
opportunity to join the internationally prestigious VLBI global array of dishes working together in
concert to produce Earth’s best view of the Universe.
Unfortunately, funding for the project has proven as elusive as the UFOs The Big Dish could also be used
to study. “Science Foundation Ireland doesn’t have a funding stream for infrastructure, even though this
dish is one of only eight of its kind in the world and an incredibly precious global asset for researchers,”
explained Fitzpatrick. “We’ve also been unsuccessful with approaches to Enterprise Ireland to open the
commercial opportunities a refurbished Dish would offer.”
The NSC is now launching a public campaign in the hopes of raising both awareness of this opportunity
and the necessary funds to preserve the dish. Donations are being taken on The Big Dish website at
https://bigdish.ie As part of the campaign, Wright will kick off a day-long donation drive on Tuesday the
17 th of October. He’ll be livestreaming to his audience of thousands with tours, interviews, trivia, and
give-aways live from the foot of The Big Dish. Speaking about his reasons for doing the event, Wright
said, “This Dish has too much potential to just ignore it. Donors will know they’re getting value for
money for the future of scientific knowledge and space exploration.”