While it is appreciated that much of our work in Research and Development is confidential and contains a view of long-term development, we’re always excited when given the opportunity to talk about our vision and our goal for MBRYONICS. Our CEO John Mackey was delighted to speak to Elaine O’Regan from the Business Post on our goals and our vision and the story behind MBRYONICS’ inception.
Read the full article below.
A satellite communications company run by three siblings in Galway can count the European Space Agency (ESA) among its high-profile customers.
John, Ruth and David Mackey, the founders of MBRYONICS, are at the cutting edge of research into optics and photonics technologies for space satellites.
The company is now in recruitment mode, with plans to create eight jobs for engineers, scientists and industrial designers this year at a new cleanroom facility in Galway, which will be used to manufacture advanced space technologies.
For chief executive John Mackey, whose background is in economics, working in the high-tech space sector is a new experience. He admits he is “the odd pea in the pod”.
“I was actually restoring old buildings when MBRYONICS got started. That’s a passion of mine, but getting involved in MBRYONICS with Ruth and David has been incredibly exciting,” he said.
The company is a spin-out of the Applied Optics Group at NUI Galway. Ruth Mackey undertook her PhD with the group, focusing on the use of adaptive optics in free-space optical communications. David Mackey subsequently joined the group to complete his own PhD on high-speed adaptive optics and, in particular, photonics integrated circuits.
John Mackey said: “MBRYONICS was really born out of these two worlds coming together with Ruth’s physics background on one side and David’s engineering know-how on the other.
“Our big focus is on creating the technologies for the next era of satellite and wireless communications networks. Right now, this is an incredibly niche area. It is the domain of the likes of NASA and the European Space Agency.”
He said laser satellite network communication had the potential to carry a much higher volume of data than the broadband networks currently in use.
“If you can fire a laser beam through free space in a straight line from a transmitter to a receiver, the potential is there to be able to transfer huge volumes of data wirelessly without having to dig up roads and lay fibre,” he said.
“The cost is lower, so the opportunity is quite significant, but the problem is that particles and other environmental elements in the atmosphere, like heat or scintillation, cause laser beams to wander. One part of our work is about working out how to overcome that.”
MBRYONICS is also pioneering the development of photonic integrated circuits (PICs), highly miniaturised optical systems on microchips, which can transmit data using electrons.
“A PIC is like a mini-fibre network that has really high data processing capabilities and really low power usage,” Mackey said.
“It’s perfect for space, because when you launch something into space, the lighter it is, the more integrated and the more power-efficient, the better.
“For us, its tiny size means that it can be manufactured in a cleanroom environment, so we can make PICs ourselves.”
It was only after the Mackey’s set up MBRYONICS, initially with the aim of building ground station systems to communicate with satellites, that they realised just how nascent their target market really was.
“As we looked into it more, we found out that no one was actually building the technology to go on board the satellite itself,” John Mackey said.
“We were suddenly in a bit of a chicken and egg situation, and we really had to assess: ‘What’s our next step?’ What sort of company is MBRYONICS going to be?’
“That’s where our name came from. We’re taking ‘embryonic’ technologies that are not really mature, still in the blue skies research domain, and applying science and engineering to get them market-ready.”
In addition to the ESA, the company is also working with microelectronics and satellite manufacturers, systems integrators and satellite operators in Britain, Europe and the US.
“As a wireless communication technology, satellites could be incredibly powerful. One satellite in a particular orbit has scope to reach an entire continent,” John said.
“If you put lasers on board satellites, the potential is there to facilitate phenomenal data rates and start to connect rural parts of the world that have no existing broadband infrastructure.”
The firm employs 12 people at its headquarters in Westside Enterprise Centre in Galway, and at an R&D hub at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.
A client company of Enterprise Ireland, MBRYONICS was one of eight Irish companies that took part in a trade mission organised by the state agency to the ESA Centre for Earth Observation in Frascati in Italy two years ago.
“We’re in the process now of setting up a 180-square-metre cleanroom facility for pilot production in Galway, which will allow us to validate our manufacturing processes,” John said.
“We’re gearing up to start shipping out the hardware we’ve built to turn satellites into orbital data centres and, on the ground, we’re launching our own demonstration mission with the European Commission in late 2022.
“We’ll be building our own ground station to demonstrate optical communications between ground and space.”
Writer: Elaine O’Regan, Business Post, 7th February 2021