ESA Corporate News
ESA Corporate News
• 24 March 2020: In response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic, ESA has decided to further reduce on-site personnel at its mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany. 1)
- The new adjustments require temporarily stopping instrument operation and data gathering on four Solar System science missions, which are part of the wider fleet of 21 spacecraft currently flown by the Agency from ESOC (European Space Operations Center) in Darmstadt.
- ESA implemented risk mitigation measures early on. The vast majority of ESA’s workforce has been teleworking for nearly two weeks. Only key personnel performing critical tasks, which include maintaining real-time spacecraft operations, are still present on site at ESA’s establishments throughout Europe.
Supporting enhanced national measures
- Recent developments, including strengthened restrictions by national, regional and local authorities across Europe and the first positive test result for COVID-19 within the workforce at ESOC, have led the Agency to restrict on-site personnel at its mission control center even further.
- “Our priority is the health of our workforce, and we will therefore reduce activity on some of our scientific missions, especially on interplanetary spacecraft, which currently require the highest number of personnel on site,” says ESA’s Director of Operations Rolf Densing.
- “These have stable orbits and long mission durations, so turning off their science instruments and placing them into a largely unattended safe configuration for a certain period will have a negligible impact on their overall mission performance.”
- Among the affected missions are:
a) Cluster – A four-spacecraft mission launched in 2000, orbiting Earth to investigate our planet’s magnetic environment and how it is forged by the solar wind, the stream of charged particles constantly released by the Sun;
- “It was a difficult decision, but the right one to take. Our greatest responsibility is the safety of people, and I know all of us in the science community understand why this is necessary,” says Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science.
- “This is a prudent step to ensure that Europe’s world-class science missions are safe, along with the instruments from European scientists and our international partners flying on our missions. We are talking about some of humankind’s most advanced scientific experiments – and if switching some missions into temporary standby keeps them safe, then this is what we will do.”
- The temporary reduction in personnel on site will also allow the ESOC teams to concentrate on maintaining spacecraft safety for all other missions involved, in particular the Mercury explorer BepiColombo, which is on its way to the innermost planet in the Solar System and will require some on-site support around its scheduled Earth flyby on 10 April.
- The challenging maneuver, which will use Earth’s gravity to adjust BepiColombo’s trajectory as it cruises towards Mercury, will be performed by a very small number of engineers and in full respect of social distancing and other health and hygiene measures required by the current situation.
- The temporary reduction in personnel on site will also allow the ESOC teams to concentrate on maintaining spacecraft safety for all other missions involved, in particular the Mercury explorer BepiColombo, which is on its way to the innermost planet in the Solar System and will require some on-site support around its scheduled Earth flyby on 10 April.
- The challenging maneuver, which will use Earth’s gravity to adjust BepiColombo’s trajectory as it cruises towards Mercury, will be performed by a very small number of engineers and in full respect of social distancing and other health and hygiene measures required by the current situation.
Figure 1: Artist's rendition of BepiColombo's upcoming Earth flyby (image credit: ESA)
- Commissioning and first check-out operations of scientific instruments on the recently launched Solar Orbiter, which had begun last month, have been temporarily suspended.
- ESA expects to resume these operations in the near future, in line with the development of the coronavirus situation. Meanwhile, Solar Orbiter will continue its journey towards the Sun, with the first Venus flyby to take place in December.
Coasting through space
- “Over the coming days, our interplanetary missions will be gradually commanded into a safe configuration, so that thereafter they will need little or no intervention from ground,” says Paolo Ferri, responsible for mission operations at ESA.
- “These probes are designed to safely sustain long periods with limited or no interaction with ground, required for instance for the periods they spend behind the Sun as seen from Earth, when no radio contact is possible for weeks,” he adds. “We are confident that with very limited and infrequent interactions with ground control the missions can safely remain in that operation mode for months, should the duration of the coronavirus mitigation measures require it.”
- In the coming days, ESA will monitor the evolving environmental conditions and restrictions, develop special procedures, plans and decision logic for the future restart of the scientific operations.
- “The decision on when to return to normal science production mode will be taken independently for each mission, depending on several variables, including the type and complexity of each mission,” adds Paolo Ferri.
Figure 2: Artist's impression of Mars Express. The background is based on an actual image of Mars taken by the spacecraft's high resolution stereo camera (Artist's impression of Mars Express. The background is based on an actual image of Mars taken by the spacecraft's high resolution stereo camera)
- The measure does not affect other ESA missions that are operated from Darmstadt, such as space science missions for astronomy or Earth observation missions, including those that are part of the European Commission’s Copernicus program. For these missions, which require frequent care from ground, teams are able to conduct most control actions remotely, with just a single technician in a control room.
- Even before this measure, the community of European and international scientists behind the interplanetary missions were already feeling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, with processing and analysis hindered by local and national work restrictions and the need for social distancing.
- “I wish to thank all the scientists, engineers and other colleagues not only at mission control but across the Agency and at our partners who are keeping Europe’s essential space missions flying in the middle of this global crisis”, says ESA Director General Jan Wörner.
- “I am glad to see how professional everyone at ESA is throughout this difficult situation. It shows that the Agency is, first and foremost, an ensemble of humans from all over Europe who care. Humans who care not only about science and space, but even more about the well-being of colleagues, families and fellow citizens all over the planet.”
• 18 March 2020: ESA's Mission Control adjusts to coronavirus conditions. 2)
Figure 3: Responsible for spacecraft orbiting Earth, the Sun and exploring the Solar System, teams at ESA’s mission control deal with in-flight challenges every day, from faulty hardware, problematic software and hazardous space debris to computer viruses that could affect ground stations (image credit: ESA/ESOC)
So how do they keep missions flying when a viral pandemic puts the people of the Agency at risk? The first priority is the health and well-being of the workforce across the Agency, while those working at ESA’s mission control center, in Darmstadt, Germany, have the unique challenge of maintaining missions in orbit while ensuring critical ground infrastructure functions as it should, including seven ground stations located on three continents.
Plans on the ground
ESA is currently flying 21 spacecraft from ESOC, ranging from Earth observation to astronomy and planetary exploration missions, as well as five Sentinel satellites belonging to the European Union’s Copernicus program.
Figure 4: This animation shows different types of space debris objects and different debris sizes in orbit around Earth. For debris objects bigger than 10 cm the data come from the US Space Surveillance Catalog. The information about debris objects smaller than 10 cm is based on a statistical model by ESA (video credit: ESA) .
Number of space debris objects in orbit:
- > 1m: 5,400 objects
- > 10 cm: 34,000 objects (among them are only 2,000 active satellites)
- > 1cm: 900,000 objects
- > 1mm: 130,000,000 objects
Color code of Figure 4
- Red: satellites (functional or dysfunctional)
- Yellow: rocket bodies
- Green: mission related objects (covers, caps, adapters, etc.)
- Blue: fragments.
These missions do not fly by themselves. Engineers must take regular measures to, for example, protect spacecraft from gradually drifting off their intended orbits or colliding with debris, ensure solar panels are getting enough light from the Sun, operate the scientific instruments, receive bundles of crucial data and keep both onboard and ground systems working and up-to-date.
To deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, ESA is implementing numerous preventative measures taking account of guidance provided by national and regional civil authorities, especially with respect to minimizing personal contact.
For the mission operations teams or the experts in technical ground segment areas like flight dynamics and ground stations, work is typically done together in small-ish control rooms, and so a range of plans are in place to respond to the developing severity of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Responses differ primarily in the amount and type of personnel required on site in the control rooms and technical facilities.
Figure 5: Inside the Sentinel control room at ESA's operation center in Darmstadt, Germany (image credit: ESA, J. Mai)
Taking mission control home
For now, the aim at mission control remains maintaining the generation of mission data, and keeping the entire fleet of spacecraft, young and old, operating in a routine way.
At the same time the preparation and execution of ad-hoc critical activities, like collision avoidance maneuvers or the upcoming Earth flyby of BepiColombo, have to be ensured.
As of Monday, 16 March, the majority of the workforce at ESOC began working from home. Similar to staffing levels on a typical weekend, mission teams are now keeping a minimum presence on site, while everyone who can is performing the maximum possible daily activities off site.
In the history of ESA’s mission control center, there has never been a period with so few people on site,” says Rolf Densing, Director of Operations for ESA.
This of course has big implications for how missions are flown, and for the next few weeks, the priority will remain on protecting health by minimizing the number of people physically present, while ensuring effective daily operations".
In the future, if necessary, ESA could reduce on-site personnel even more, necessitating a reduction or even a halt to science data gathering so as to focus on simply maintaining spacecraft in safe, stable orbits.
“Such a scenario could be maintained for quite some time, extending into many weeks or months, if necessary,” says Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations.
• 17 March 2020: With significant developments in the coronavirus situation and recent directives in our host nations, ESA has taken steps ensure the operation of its critical tasks while carefully reinforcing its duty of care and social responsibility. 3)
Last week, many ESA staff and contractors were advised to stay at home and take up teleworking, but the weekend saw border restrictions, closure of schools, shops and centers of social activity in France, Spain and the Netherlands, and even more stringent measures in other host nations. Preempting these events, ESA decided to apply this condition to the majority of ESA personnel across all establishments.
Several weeks ago, ESA’s management team began the process to confirm the list of critical tasks that ESA needs to protect, and identify the key resources that are required to support them, should the response to the coronavirus pandemic call for more stringent measures designed to reduce social interaction.
ESA Director General Jan Wörner said, “The health and welfare of our employees, their families and their communities remain my top priority. ESA has a duty of care to them all. But at the same time, we must also protect the core tasks of the Agency. My business priority has to be to ensure that these critical tasks continue uninterrupted.”
Only key workers required to support the formally identified critical tasks will be active at ESA sites, with all others now teleworking wherever possible both to reduce unnecessary social interaction and to allow maximum focus on critical tasks.
The ESA Council scheduled for 17/18 March was cancelled, but ESA management is working to identify the best process to allow executive committee approval of actions if necessary. Business continuity in the financial and procurement areas is being maintained.
The European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, is also adopting significant restrictions on operations and access. In compliance with measures decided by the French government, launch campaigns under way at the center have been suspended. These launch preparations will resume as soon as health conditions allow. See the Arianespace press release.
• 13 March 2020: Europe and the world battle the surging SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. 4)
It is difficult to remember any disease or situation that has transformed the world as rapidly as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is causing COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-19) across all European countries and wreaking havoc across daily life. Across all of ESA’s member states, cases are increasing, in some cases rapidly. WHO has said that Europe is now the center of the global pandemic.
It most cases, it is anaesthesiologists that are on the front line caring for patients. Anaesthesiologists are the prime specialists in treating severely ill patients needing haemodynamic and ventilator support. All over Europe, anaesthesiologists are involved in the care of the critically ill COVID-19 patients and are working day and night to combat the severe consequences of the disease and improve the status of the critically ill patients.
ESA’s President Professor Kai Zacharowski is Director of the Department of Anesthesia, Intensive Care Medicine and Pain Therapy, University Hospital Frankfurt, Germany, and has himself treated a number of patients with COVID-19. “On a European level more than 70% of intensive care patients are treated by anaesthesiologists. This reflects our responsibility being equipped with the best possible training and competencies to treat and, whenever possible, to heal and improve the outcome of our patients 24 hours a day.”
He adds: “Our members are to face a very intense working period over the months to come. We at ESA will aim to keep all our members as up to date as possible with key developments as the pandemic develops.”
Despite suffering over 80,000 cases, China has used all of its state powers to gradually take control of the pandemic within its borders, reducing the number of new daily infections and deaths to relatively low levels after the explosion of new infections in Hubei province which began with a trickle of cases in December 2019.
However, now ESA member states — including some of Europe’s largest countries — are suffering one of the most serious public health crises of modern times. Since Monday 9 March, Italy has been in a nationwide lockdown, with all 60 million of its citizens asked to stay home for all but essential journeys for food, drug supplies and to care for relatives. As of Friday, March 13, there have been 15,113 confirmed cases of COVID-19, causing 1,016 deaths. The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, has asked all Italians to stay home for all but exceptional circumstances, and all public gatherings are banned.
One of the most acute problems experienced by Italy is one that is now being faced by France and Spain and will likely soon be faced by other ESA member states and countries worldwide — a shortage of intensive care beds. Even in Lombardy, in Italy’s wealthier northern region, hospitals and especially their intensive care departments are being overwhelmed by a huge increase in cases, many requiring life-saving respiratory interventions. Intensivists, critical care specialists and anaesthetists are among the teams battling to save these patients. Very difficult choices are being made regarding which patients will receive treatment and those who will not. These new COVID-19 cases, of course, come on top of the usual requirements for critical care from other sources such as road accidents and emergency surgery.
“According to the data provided by our Italian colleagues the mean age of all COVID-19 patients is 70 years, and one of the major risk factors for ICU admission is obesity,” explains ESA Immediate Past President Stefan De Hert, based at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium. “Interestingly, patients less than 50 years old without major comorbidities seem to constitute 20% of the COVID-19 ICU patients. Finally, infected women seem to develop less symptoms than men, and also children seem to experience the infection without important clinical problems. These data are quite similar to what we have learned from the experiences of our Chinese colleagues.”
The situation in Spain is also rapidly worsening, with reports that Madrid’s public health system is creaking under the strain and several well-known politicians have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On Friday, March 13, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a state of alert, giving the government emergency powers to take control of factories and restrict people’s movements. The entire Spanish parliament is going through testing as a result of these alerts, and there are concerns that the entire region of Madrid may need to go into quarantine. As of this date, Spain has 4,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 120 recorded deaths, around half in the Madrid region. The country has banned medical conferences, asking all doctors to remain available for work, and the country’s La Liga football league has been suspended after the entire Real Madrid Team was potentially exposed.
In Germany, Europe’s most populous country, many regions have closed schools and universities, and a raft of measures have been proposed, including bus passengers in Berlin being asked to enter through the back door, to protect the health of the drivers who must continue working. By Friday March 13, the country had recorded 3,059 cases and 6 deaths.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said in a press conference on March 11 that up to two-thirds of the country could eventually be infected. On Thursday, March 12 it was announced, also in Berlin, that “With the aim that the hospitals in Germany concentrate on the expected increasing need for intensive care and ventilation capacity for the treatment of patients with severe respiratory diseases by COVID-19, as far as medically justifiable, basically all planned admissions, surgeries and interventions in all hospitals be postponed and suspended indefinitely from Monday, March 15.”
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, was one of the first Western leaders to publicly accept the inevitability of the COVID-19 pandemic. And France has experienced one of the highest number of cases: 2876 cases and 61 deaths as of Thursday, March 12. Doctors in Paris have reported intensive care units filling up rapidly, with a risk that the country will follow the same trajectory as Italy but with an 8-day delay, having to choose who among coronavirus patients and others requiring critical care can receive treatment. It has already banned any public meetings of 1,000 people or more, reducing this from the previously announced number of 5,000.
Countries in Europe are not all adopting the same measures to fight the pandemic. Despite having one of the smallest number of cases, Ireland decided that from Friday 13 March, all schools and universities would be closed. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar all banned all indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and all outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people.
Within the UK, which has 798 cases and 11 deaths so far, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not yet adopted some of the more severe tactics to confront the epidemic. On Thursday, March 12, he asked all people with the symptoms of a high temperature or continuous cough to self-isolate for seven days, but has so far ruled out closing schools and cancelling major events, although the English and Scottish football leagues decided on Friday, March 13, to postpone all fixtures for at least two weeks. The advice from medical experts in the UK is attempting to push the peak of the pandemic into the summer months and also flatten its intensity, to ensure as many people who need critical care in the coming months are able to receive it, and thus reduce the mortality rate.
Both Slovenia and Austria have closed their borders with Italy in order to stop the flow of cases, and Czechia has banned all non-citizens and non-permanent residents to manage its own increase in cases, as has Slovakia. Israel has effectively suspended its tourism economy by asking all incoming nationals of other countries to self-isolate for 14 days.
And late on March 11, US President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel to the USA from residents of 26 European countries, a move that was rapidly condemned as without evidence by the European Union. The announcement came as cases in the USA passed 1,000, with the actual toll thought to be far higher due to problems accessing testing kits nationwide and a fear that community transmission had been occurring long before the USA reacted properly to the pandemic. At the time of writing of this article, President Trump was expected to declare a state of emergency to tackle COVID-19.
At a personal level, people are being asked to wash their hands, for 20 seconds at a time with soap and water, as often as they can, or use a hand sanitizer. Avoiding touching your face with your hands at any time has also been proposed by public health experts, as has maintaining a minimum distance of 2 meters from any other person to reduce transmission.
“The European Society of Anaesthesiology, like all medical societies, has reviewed its own activities as this pandemic has developed,” explains Prof Zacharowski. “We have postponed all of our courses and the European Diploma in Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care (EDAIC) exams. We have also changed the meetings of our board of directors from face-to-face to teleconferences. Most importantly, we have decided to postpone our annual Euroanaesthesia congress to a later date. We realize how vital anaesthetists and intensivists are during this time, and that being present in their hospitals far outweigh any other normal activities. Our members and community are crucial in containing this epidemic and saving countless lives.”
Two dates are currently under consideration for the new date for Euroanaesthesia: either 21-24 August or 28-31 August. The ESA team will inform all members as soon as a decision has been taken.
• 30 December 2019: As the year comes to a close, it is once again time to look back and reflect on some of the achievements and highlights of European spaceflight. The new Gaia star catalogue and the launch of Cheops are keeping ESA at the forefront of space science, as will Solar Orbiter, being prepared for launch next year. The Copernicus program continues to be the largest Earth observation program in the world, with ESA preparing even more missions. On the Space Station, Luca Parmitano became the third European to command an ISS expedition. During his second mission, he made some of the space program's most complex and demanding spacewalks. At the end of 2019, the ESA Space19+ ministerial conference agreed to give ESA its largest budget ever and expressed continued support for Europe’s independent access to space with Ariane 6 and Vega-C. 5)
Figure 6: ESA highlights of 2019 (video credit: ESA)
• On 6 December, representatives from ESA, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Italian Space Agency met at the States General for Space, Security and Defence event in Naples, Italy, to discuss upcoming challenges for European industry. 6)
The meeting follows the very successful Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, which took place two weeks ago in Spain and where Member States fully endorsed ESA’s activities – with a total funding of €14.4 billion – the largest part of which is to be invested in ESA’s Earth Observation Programs.
The meeting was organized by ESA, the European Parliament and the Italian Space Agency, and Copernicus and Galileo were the subject of several talks by prominent speakers such as David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament.
With space-related activities recognized as having a strategic and relevant impact on industry, innovation, employment, new services for citizens and businesses, and environmental and civil protection, the European Union will also continue to invest in the space sector.
Europe’s Multiannual Financial Framework foresees a budget of €16 billion for the EU space program. However, the financial allocation will be negotiated by EU Member States and the European Parliament during 2020.
The funds will allow for a wide participation of industry, research centers and universities, which will serve to promote competitiveness, efficiency and innovation – supporting the collaboration between European industries.
Space will also benefit from funds for innovation and research foreseen in the Horizon Europe program, for which the European Commission has proposed a budget of €100 billion for the period 2021—27. The European Parliament, however, proposes to increase this to €120 billion.
Copernicus was highlighted as a European success story. The increased budget of Earth Observation Programs at ESA’s Space19+ will allow for the initial development, for example, of six new high-priority Copernicus missions, one of which will track global carbon dioxide emissions.
Josef Aschbacher, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programs, attended the Space, Security and Defence event, and presented ESA’s contributions to the European space program. He commented, “Copernicus is the world’s largest Earth observation system led by the European Union, while the Copernicus space component is managed by ESA. Today, the central Sentinel data hub provides 250 TB of data per day. Copernicus is a good example of how Europe can work together at its best. Copernicus is a European success story.”
Figure 7: Earth observation at Space, Security and Defence event in Naples, Italy (image credit: ESA)
• 28 November 2019: ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, has concluded in Seville, Spain, with the endorsement of the most ambitious plan to date for the future of ESA and the whole European space sector. The meeting brought together ministers with responsibility for space activities in Europe, along with Canada and observers from the EU. 7) 8) 9)
Figure 8: Ministers from ESA’s Member States, along with Associate Member Slovenia and Cooperating State Canada, gathered in Seville, Spain, 27-28 November 2019, to discuss future space activities for Europe and the budget of Europe’s space agency for the next three years (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
The Member States were asked to approve a comprehensive set of programs to secure Europe’s independent access to and use of space in the 2020s, boost Europe’s growing space economy, and make breakthrough discoveries about Earth, our Solar System and the Universe beyond, all the while making the responsible choice to strengthen the efforts we are making to secure and protect our planet.
For the first time in 25 years, there will be a significant boost in funding for ESA’s world-class and inspirational science program, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of who we are and where we come from. It will allow the first gravitational wave detector in space, LISA, to fly alongside the black hole mission Athena and enable fundamental advances in our understanding of the basic physics of the Universe. There is also a strong reinforcement and accordingly funding for research and development and ESA’s laboratories, to underpin the missions of the future.
Figure 9: Artist's impression of the merger of two supermassive black holes during a galaxy collision. What happens when two supermassive black holes collide? Combining the observing power of two future ESA missions, Athena and LISA, would allow us to study these cosmic clashes and their mysterious aftermath for the first time. (image credit: ESA)
With worldwide partners, Europe will take its place at the heart of space exploration going farther than we have ever gone before – we continue our commitment to the International Space Station until 2030 as well as contributing vital transportation and habitation modules for the Gateway, the first space station to orbit the Moon. ESA's astronauts recruited in 2009 will continue to receive flight assignments until all of them have been to space for a second time, and we will also begin the process of recruiting a new class to continue European exploration in low Earth orbit and beyond. European astronauts will fly to the Moon for the first time. Member States have confirmed European support for a ground-breaking Mars Sample Return mission, in cooperation with NASA.
ESA will help develop the commercial benefits of space for innovators and governments across the Member States, boosting competitiveness in the NewSpace environment. We will develop the first fully flexible satellite systems to be integrated with 5G networks, as well as next-generation optical technology for a fibre-like ‘network in the sky’, marking a transformation in the satellite communication industry. Satellite communications will join forces with navigation to begin satnav for the Moon, while closer to home commercial companies can access funding for new applications of navigation technologies through the NAVISP program. ESA Ministers have secured a smooth transition to the next generation of launchers: Ariane 6 and Vega-C, and have given the green light to Space Rider, ESA’s new reusable spaceship.
Our Member States have committed to the responsible use of our environment both on and off our planet. ESA’s world-leading position in Earth observation will be strengthened with the arrival of 11 new missions, in particular addressing topics linked to climate change, Arctic and Africa.
There was also a significant development with the adoption of Space Safety as a new basic pillar of ESA’s activities. This will lead to new projects in the areas of keeping the space environment operational – through the removal of dangerous debris and plans for automation of space traffic control – and early warnings and mitigation of damage to Earth from hazards from space such as asteroids and solar flares. The Hera mission marks a joint collaboration with NASA to test asteroid deflection capabilities. New investments in the field of cyber-resilience and cyber-training have also been confirmed.
Figure 10: This taken from the new Hera mission trailer featuring rock star Brian May (image credit: ESA, Science Office)
The coming years will also see ESA reinforce its relationship with the European Union and increase its own organizational agility, effectiveness and efficiency.
“Bringing together our Member States, 22 governments that change regularly, and agreeing on such inspirational projects to share a joint future in space might seem an impossible task on paper. But in two days in Seville, we have proved it is possible,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner. “It is possible because we work together to develop good programs, and it is possible because people are dedicated, and invest all their effort in a long and thorough decision process involving the scientific community, industry and national delegations.
“Together we have put in place a structure that sees inspiration, competitiveness and responsibility underpin our actions for the coming years, with ESA and Europe going beyond our previous achievements with challenging new missions and targets for growth along with the wider industry.”
Co-chairing the meeting, Manuel Heitor, Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education declared: “Today at Space19+ in Seville, together with my colleagues Ministers from ESA Member States, we secured a further step to foster Europe’s competitive position in the global space arena. We approved an ambitious portfolio of space programs, and addressed the challenges linked to the sector. We therefore invited all ESA Member States to seriously engage in taking stock of space activities in a continuous way and strengthen the role of ESA in Europe in close articulation with EC. In addition, we invited ESA Member States to work with ESA to take the necessary steps towards modernizing ESA's industrial policy and guarantee the agency evolves in a way to match a constantly changing environment, changing markets and a fast rate of digital transformation of our societies.”
Also co-chair of the meeting, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frédérique Vidal said: “Space19+ has demonstrated the value of space as a critical infrastructure and enabler for our daily lives. Thanks to the European excellence in space, we are able to mutually tackle human and global challenges such as climate change, space safety and security. In subscribing to the programs, Member States have made a great step towards inspiring society and renewing our ambition to address those challenges. The high level of subscriptions that was decided at the Sevilla ministerial conference will permit to strengthen the European excellence in space and will also commit us towards European citizens.”
Figure 11: Official group photo Space19+. Ministers from ESA’s Member States, along with Associate Member Slovenia and Cooperating State Canada, gathered in Seville, Spain, 27-28 November 2019, to discuss future space activities for Europe and the budget of Europe’s space agency for the next three years (image credit: ESA, S. Corvaja)
About the European Space Agency
ESA is an intergovernmental organization, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.
ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, of which 20 are Member States of the EU.
ESA has established formal cooperation with seven other Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programs under a Cooperation Agreement.
By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programs and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programs.
ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.
Table 1: Reflections on ESA’s Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, Space19+ 10)
• 27 November 2019: A Memorandum of Cooperation to further commit to strengthening cooperation in the field of space resources and innovation was signed by Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider and ESA Director General ESA Jan Wörner. 11)
Figure 12: A Memorandum of Cooperation to further commit to strengthening cooperation in the field of space resources and innovation was signed on 27 November in Seville, Spain, by Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider and ESA Director General ESA Jan Wörner (image credit: ESA, P. Sebirot)
- Following the establishment of the SpaceResources.lu initiative in 2016 to promote and develop the research, economic and legal aspects of space resources, ESA and the Luxembourg Space Agency have been working together to explore opportunities for cooperation and have identified common objectives for research and development.
- The Luxembourg Space Agency is establishing ESRIC (European Space Resources Innovation Center), to create additional opportunities for European and international innovation. Its initial focus is on space resource extraction, processing and manufacturing to advance sustainable space exploration.
- The Memorandum signed at ESA’s Ministerial Council Space19+ in Seville, Spain, sees ESA join the Space Resources Innovation Center as a strategic partner, broadening the scope of the activities started under the spaceresources.lu initiative and giving it a more European character.
A common goal
- The cost of launching people and materials into space and the lack of an established, affordable means of resupplying essentials such as fuel and life support is currently a major barrier to sustainable space exploration.
- Overcoming these challenges, by developing technology that turns resources found in space into oxygen and water, fuel or building materials will open up new opportunities for Europe’s exploration of the Solar System, and provide new business opportunities, as well as benefits for communities on Earth.
- ESA is focused on in situ resource utilization to support sustainable exploration of our Solar System. As we look to take our next steps to the Moon and Mars, ESA sees in situ resource utilization as an enabling capability for sustaining human operations.
- The agency has already made significant progress in this area by developing the ESA Strategy for Space Resources that implements a number of ground-based research, technology and mission definition activities, using in situ resources for sustainable space exploration.
- Together with ESA, the Luxembourg Space Agency will set up the facilities that will allow ground-based research on space resources for both public and private researchers from all over Europe, establishing the key European center for space resources utilization.
- The scope of the cooperation will include research, business support and incubation, knowledge management and competence concentration and community management.
• 16 April 2019: The Contribution Agreement between ESA and the EU on space technology activities was signed today by ESA Director General Jan Wörner and the European Commission’s Deputy Director-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Pierre Delsaux. 12)
The objective of the EU’s In Orbit Demonstration/Validation (IOD/IOV) activities pursued through this agreement, in the frame of the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, is to set the grounds for a potential future provision of a regular IOD/IOV service for new technologies in Europe, based on European solutions for spacecraft, ground segment and launch services.
The choice of the European Commission to delegate ESA with the full implementation of the EU Horizon 2020 IOD/IOV actions acknowledges ESA’s leading expertise in managing such programs and mitigating risks, based on its long-standing experience in managing its own IOD/IOV programs.
Through the agreement, the EU also contributes to ESA’s Light Satellites, Low cost, Launch opportunities (LLL) initiative, specifically for the Proof of Concept demonstration flights for the Vega Small Spacecraft Mission Service (SSMS) and Ariane 6 Microsat Launch Share (MLS).
Figure 13: ESA and EU sign Contribution Agreement on Horizon 2020 space activities (image credit: ESA/European Commission)
• 14 December 2018: The ESA Council held its 277th meeting at the ESOC (European Space Operations Center) in Darmstadt on 12 and 13 December 2018. 13)
The Council welcomed NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who presented NASA’s vision for future space exploration. Mr Bridenstine praised the long-standing cooperation between ESA and NASA over the past 40 years through more than 260 major agreements including the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.
He strongly advocated international cooperation with ESA regarding space science, Earth science, the extension of the International Space Station operations and recognized the leading role of ESA on space safety and protection of space assets.
Figure 14: The ESA Council 2018 in Darmstadt, Germany, welcomed NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as guest, here seen at right of ESA Director General Jan Wörner. Also to the right are, Jean Yves Le Gall, Chair of ESA Council, and Elena Grifoni-Winters, Council Secretary and Head of ESA Director General's Cabinet (image credit: ESA)
Looking at the future of exploration, Mr Bridenstine invited ESA to build from the International Space Station towards the Lunar Gateway as a sustainable and reusable outpost around the Moon. He congratulated ESA for delivering in November the first European Service Module as a critical element of the Orion missions and set the horizon for future missions to Mars, including the prospect of a joint cooperation with ESA on Mars Sample Return.
Discussions with the Member States were held in view of the conclusion of the industrial contract to be signed for the production of the first batch of Ariane 6 launchers to be launched after its maiden flight in 2020. ESA proposed a way forward to stabilize the transition until full operational capability of Ariane 6
After almost 40 years of outstanding collaboration with Canada, which will be celebrated next year, the ESA Council unanimously approved the renewal of the cooperation agreement between ESA and the Government of Canada for a period of 10 years.
Finally, the Council unanimously approved the proposal of the Director General concerning the renewal of its Director team of teams covering the four pillars of the agency, namely ‘Applications’, 'Safety and Security', ‘Science and Exploration’, ‘Enabling and Support’ as well as ‘Administration and Industrial Policy’.
• 17 August 2017: ESOC – the European Space Operations Center, in Darmstadt, Germany – has served as Europe’s ‘gateway to space’ for half a century. In 2017, ESOC is celebrating its 50th anniversary, highlighting a rich history of achievement in space. 14)
The articles stated provide a brief overview of ESOC's rich history, which encompasses 77 spacecraft, ranging from communication, weather, Earth observation and climate monitoring satellites to spacecraft studying the Sun or peering deep into our Universe. Exploring our solar system, ESOC has flown missions to the Moon, Mars and Venus, as well as three epoch-making triumphs: Giotto’s flyby of Halley’s Comet in 1986, the Huygens landing on Titan in 2005 and Rosetta’s delivery of Philae to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014 – humanity’s first-ever landing on a comet.
This special report takes a look at the center’s beginnings in 1967, the pioneering spirit of the early decades, the steady growth of mission operations expertise in Darmstadt, developments at the center and milestones in European space flight, ESOC’s evolving economic importance and the present challenges and future opportunities.
• 02 December 2016: ESA today concluded a two-day Council meeting at ministerial level in Lucerne, Switzerland. Ministers in charge for space matters from ESA’s 22 member states plus Slovenia and Canada allocated €10.3 billion for space activities and programs based on the vision of a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0. 15)
The high level of subscriptions demonstrates once more that ESA’s Member States consider space as a strategic and attractive investment with a particularly high socio-economic value.
It also underlines that ESA is THE European Space Agency capable of channeling their investment to respond effectively to regional, national and European needs by covering all elements of space: science, human spaceflight, exploration, launchers, telecommunications, navigation, Earth observation, applications (combining space, airborne and terrestrial technology), operations and technologies; as well as responding to the needs and challenges of Europe and the Member States by bringing together all stakeholders.
Ministers confirmed the confidence that ESA can conceptualize, shape and organize the change in the European space sector and in ESA itself. While also acting as a global player, broker and mediator at the center of international cooperation in space activities, in areas ranging from the far away in exploration (with the concept of a Moon Village for instance) to supporting closer to home the international global climate research effort following the Paris Agreement of 2015.
At this summit, Ministers in charge of space matters have declared support for ESA’s Director General’s vision for Europe in space and the role and development of ESA: now the Space 4.0i era can start with ESA committing to inform, innovate, interact and inspire. And, building on commercialization, participation, digitalization, jobs and growth, the concept of “United Space in Europe” will soon become a reality.
Figure 15: ESA Council meeting at Ministerial Level, in Lucerne, on 1 December 2016. Ministers in charge of space activities from the 22 ESA Member States, plus Slovenia and Canada met to decide on future space activities for Europe (image credit: ESA, Stephane Corvaja)
• 18 June 2015: ESA’s business incubators hit a milestone this month: they have now fostered 300 start-up companies – and more are joining all the time. 16)
Figure 16: Portuguese Minister of Education and Science Nuno Crato and ESA Director of Technical and Quality Management Franco Ongaro at the fifth Portuguese Space Forum, where the ESA Business Incubation Center Portugal was opened, 5 November 2014 (image credit: TV Ciência) 17)
Thanks to innovations from the many Business Incubation Centers (BICs) start-ups, leading-edge applications that spring from space are spreading throughout Europe.
“Technologies from Europe’s space programs have turned out to be great problem-solvers here on Earth,” notes Franco Ongaro, ESA Director of Technical and Quality Management.
“They are now used in the most diverse applications, from healthcare to transport, from sport to entertainment, from managing Earth’s resources to helping the environment – and many more areas of our daily lives.
“These transfers of space technology result in new companies and jobs improving regional economies and helping to secure Europe’s global competitiveness.
“We have now boosted this spin-off effect by supporting more than 300 new companies, and each year we nurture another 100 via our Technology Transfer Program and incubation centers.”
These start-ups and their entrepreneurs offer smarter and better solutions to problems. For example, safety for lorry drivers at mines in Chile and Botswana has been improved by a Dutch start-up inspired by astronaut monitoring. The carbon emission and fuel consumption of heating systems have been cut by a UK company thanks to advanced coatings on satellite microthrusters.
Figure 17: The EstrellaSat driver fatigue system is now monitoring 30 drivers operating 10 trucks at a high-altitude mine in Peru. The same system is being installed in a mine in Botswana. EstrellaSat, now Wombatt, was supported during start-up by ESA’s Business Incubation Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The system incorporates spin-offs from several space technologies to lowerworkplace incidents caused by fatigue of haulage truck and other large machinery operators in open pit mines (image credit: Stracon GyM S.A.C.)
ESA incubators in eight countries
Many such new offerings are put to the market every year by entrepreneurs hosted by incubators in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the UK, France, Spain and Portugal.
“The ideas from our entrepreneurs and start-ups are in most cases directly based on spin-off from Europe’s space programs,” explains Mr Ongaro.
“It can be a special technology developed for a spacecraft, an ESA patent, our Galileo satnav system, Earth observation satellites data or it can be the reuse of expertise from our development of satellites and launchers that is turned into a novel non-space application. In all cases, it results in a new European company.”
Figure 18: Finding the best wind farm site is simple by using a new system from start-up company Leosphere, hosted at ESA’s Business Incubation Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The lidar technology the company has used is taken from ESA’s forthcoming Aeolus mission, which will do the same task except from space, to capture a 3D map of Earth’s wind fields (image credit: Leosphere) 18)
300 start-ups and many new jobs
The first application round of 2015 saw 21 new start-ups selected, taking the total beyond 300. Among these are good examples of the diversity of business ideas.
In Barcelona, Spain, the company North Europe 2012 will develop an underwater robot to collect detailed data on sea depth, water quality and sea floor details to create accurate 3D underwater maps. Accurate satnav data, autonomous navigation, radio systems and advanced sensors will be combined to develop a prototype.
Figure 19: An unmanned aircraft system guided by satnav has been developed at ESA’s Business Incubation Center in Darmstadt, Germany, to provide rapid monitoring of land areas and disaster zones. The planes have already helped Spanish farmers in Andalusia to fight land erosion (image credit: Mavinci) 19)
In Germany, the young Geodetic Cloud Computing Service company is hosted in Darmstadt to develop a web-based service offering satnav information at higher accuracy, faster and at lower cost than is currently available.
Rather than using conventional satnav data, they will work with the satnav’s phase signal combined with corrective information from ground stations to obtain higher accuracy.
At the Sud France incubator, TRAXxs entrepreneurs will combine satnav tracking and shoes. With miniaturized, low-power microelectronics and antennas embedded in shoes, realtime tracking will be available on smartphones, tablets and web portals.
The Active Aerogels group are hosted in Portugal to develop new uses for aerogels in aircraft manufacturing to improve thermal and acoustic insulation.
Figure 20: The stability of buildings and infrastructures like roads can now be monitored in real time by a new technique with its roots in space. The approach was developed by Italian start-up company Nhazca at ESA’s Business Incubation Center in Lazio near Rome, Italy, by combining satellite Earth observation data and ground-based radar imaging technology, which works in much the same way as satellites scan surfaces on Earth (image credit: NHAZCA) 20)
In Bavaria, Germany, the Vemcon start-up are looking to increase the productivity of bulldozers and other heavy-duty mobile machines by improving the operational tools available to drivers. These machines have become more complex, carrying different tools for a variety of tasks, and Vemcon proposes to use the latest man-machine methodologies to improve the driver’s handling of these large machines.
Incubator approach is expanding
“We expect more BICs, as ESA Member States see the advantage of supporting spin-off from their investment in Europe’s space programs to create successful new local companies and jobs under this initiative,” adds Mr Ongaro. “It is just a matter of taking advantage of all our space technologies, patents and expertise which are ripe and ready to use to create new businesses in Europe.”
Figure 21: ESA's Technology Transfer Program Office coordinates the eleven ESA Business Incubation Centers (BICs) in nine countries (image credit: ESA) 21)
ESA Training Program for YGT (Young Graduate Trainees) from Universities
The Young Graduate Trainee program offers a one-year experience at ESA and is a launch pad for many exciting opportunities in aerospace, research institutes or in international organizations such as ESA. 22)
Are you about to take your finals? Or do you already have your Master’s degree? If so, then you can apply to ESA as a 'Young Graduate Trainee' (YGT). This high-caliber program lasts for one year and gives successful applicants an opportunity to gain valuable experience in the development and operation of space missions.
Table 2: The application procedure
Some reports from Trainees & from Workshops and Program Announcements
ESA Academy’s Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Communications Training Course 2020 gives students new perspectives
• 06 March 2020: Thirty Bachelor, Master and PhD students from 11 different ESA Member and Associate States have successfully completed the fifth edition of ESA Academy’s Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Communications Training Course. Taking place between 18 – 21 February 2020, and hosted at ESA Academy’s Training and Learning Center, ESEC-Galaxia in Belgium, the course was delivered by a senior ESA engineer from the Operations Department of ESOC. 23)
Also attending were 20 students who were unable to be present in person, but rather participated via Livestream. Explained one of these, a Spanish student from ISAE-SUPAERO, "this course has been not only a hugely educational experience with the impressively good trainer, but also a really interesting and challenging one that has allowed me to meet some truly interesting people. The fact that the course was livestreamed did not detract at all from its usefulness or my enjoyment of it, and one can only hope to be involved in similar activities in the future."
The course’s objective was to familiarize students with the fundamental concepts that lie at the heart of spacecraft communications. The “Ladybird approach” was taken, meaning that lectures took an overview of topics rather than getting lost in details, with mathematical and analytical perspectives kept to a minimum. The course was peppered with easily understandable examples and accessible diagrams. A secondary objective was to “fill the gap” between spacecraft operators and telecommunications designers. Often designers have difficulty considering the operators’ points of view, which is a challenge that needs to be addressed when designing a ground station or telecommunications subsystem of a spacecraft.
Content was split into six key spacecraft telecommunications topics:
- Signal modulation and demodulation
- Channel coding
- Communication protocols
- Signal reception
- An overview of some real ground stations.
The trainer has many years of experience with spacecraft operations, and was able to supply ample real-life examples of spacecraft missions and operational scenarios, bringing students close to the actual problems that may be encountered. During lectures the participants were challenged with quizzes, putting themselves into the position of operators facing mission communication problems, and inviting them to devise solutions!
The pressure was then turned up as the students were tasked with a group exercise to put theory into practise. They were divided into three teams, which after careful consideration they named Atlas, Sagittarius, and Omega. These teams each had to produce a “Ladybird Design” of the communications system for a fictional mission. On the final day, they had to operate their spacecraft during a simulated communications scenario. Eight online students formed a fourth team in order to complete the exercise. With some tips from the trainer along the way, all teams performed well in the simulation, ably demonstrating the knowledge they had gained in just a few days!
In addition to the lectures and group exercise, the on-site students enjoyed a visit to ESEC-Redu with three Operations Engineers. Beginning with introductions about the site and information about the PROBA and GALILEO satellite programs, the keen attendees continued on to visit the PROBA Operations Room to gain insight into how ESEC-Redu communicates with these satellites. They also explored the Baseband Equipment Room, as well as inside the Redu 1 Antenna (boasting a 15 m diameter dish). During the visit, the students asked questions direct to the satellite and ground station engineers that work in ESEC-Redu, complementing their training by learning from real-life experiences.
“This training course was amazing!”concluded a Portuguese student from Instituto Superior Técnico, participating online. “We had the opportunity to learn a lot of things about spacecraft communication as well as get to know about some of the problems that occurred in the past. This was really insightful and was also one of the main reasons why this course was so engaging! Although the course could be a little demanding at times, since we were learning so many things in so short time, the fact that everyone who participated in the livestream was so enthusiastic and always ready to help each other made me feel really motivated. I would say this was a stupendous opportunity and I am really happy I was able to take part in it.”
Figure 22: After an intense week the university students received their certificates of participation (image credit: ESA)
New CubeSat missions selected for the third cycle of Fly Your Satellite!
• 02 March 2020: Three university teams have been selected for the third edition of the Fly Your Satellite! program following a call for proposals open in the second half of 2019. The CubeSats’ evaluation and selection was carried out by a CubeSat Evaluation Panel, consisting of ESA experts from a range of disciplines. 24)
Figure 23: Photo of the participants at the 'Fly your Satellite! 3rd Selection Workshop (photo: ESA)
ESA invited university student teams from ESA Member States, Canada and Slovenia that are developing a one, two or three-unit CubeSat with mainly educational objectives to propose their satellite for the third edition of the “Fly Your Satellite!” (FYS) program. Student teams from many universities worked hard to prepare proposals which were reviewed by a CubeSat Evaluation Panel.
The selection process culminated with a Selection Workshop held at ESTEC in December 2019, where seven teams -shortlisted as the best proposals among the applications submitted to ESA- presented their CubeSat mission. During the same week, the students were offered a number of lectures offered by ESA specialists.
All shortlisted CubeSat student teams did an outstanding job in presenting their missions and responding to the questions raised by the ESA specialists. Although the decision was not easy for the CubeSat Evaluation Panel due to the excellent quality of all CubeSat proposals, finally the following three teams were selected:
• AcubeSAT, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki – Greece
The Aristotle Space & Aeronautics Team (ASAT) is composed of students from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. ASAT is developing a CubeSat to conduct a biological experiment that investigates molecular mechanisms that are affected by the space conditions. In particular, they will probe the dynamic regulation of gene expression of eukaryotic cells in Low Earth Orbit, using advances in Synthetic Biology and MEMS (Micro-Electromechanical Systems).
• SOURCE, University of Stuttgart – Germany
SOURCE (Stuttgart Operated University Research CubeSat for Evaluation and Education) is a mission of the small-satellite student society at the University of Stuttgart with educational and technological objectives. Their CubeSat will monitor the processes involved in uncontrolled entry into Earth's atmosphere by imaging meteoroids and using in-situ heat flux measurements to characterize demise.
• UCAnFly, University of Cadiz – Spain
UCAnFly is an educational nanosatellite developed by a student team from the University of Cadiz. Their objective is to explore the feasibility of novel miniaturized magnetic measurement systems at miliHertz frequencies with low-noise conditions. The mission will allow the in-flight characterization of the system under the harsh space environment.
The selected teams will begin to work on preparing for the Critical Design Review in collaboration with ESA, and their technical documentation will be reviewed by ESA specialists in different areas of expertise.
In recognition of the great work of the other CubeSat teams that unfortunately could not be selected, ESA Education will offer support to the teams, by inviting students to attend one of the training sessions organized by the ESA Academy Training and Learning Program (TLP).
Complementary to the Fly Your Satellite! program, the ESA Education Office offers 5-day training weeks dedicated to CubeSats in collaboration with the ESA Academy Training and Learning Program. The training weeks particularly aim at university students and teams in early phases of CubeSat projects, and include a CubeSats Concurrent Engineering Workshop, and a CubeSat Hands-On Training Week. In the future a CubeSats Testing Training Week will be included in the portfolio.
A new cycle under Gravity
• 06 February 2020: From the 28th of January to the 31st of February 2020, five student teams participating in the Spin, Drop and Fly Your Thesis! 2020 programs met at ESEC-Galaxia in Belgium for the ESA Academy’s Gravity-Related Experiments Training Week 2020. 25)
These students, selected at the end of 2019, were provided with elaborate workshops and lectures. The teams got to know one another and their experiments a bit better during the week, and they learned why so many various research fields require altered gravity in order to conduct ground breaking science.
What are the 2020 gravity-related experiments?
Once again, the student experiments selected represent the wide diversity in the sciences and technologies that need altered gravity environments.
The program 'Fly Your Thesis! 2020' will provide parabolic flights to two teams. The British team RELOX aims at monitoring electrolysis efficiency under different g-levels to investigate oxygen production for future manned space mission, and the German team AIMIS-FYT intends to develop a resin 3D-printing process based on UV-curing for space applications.
The Polish team Black Spheres selected for 'Drop Your Thesis!' will analyse objects’ non-linear motion in microgravity conditions generated in the ZARM Drop Tower.
On the other side of gravity’s scale, the program 'Spin your Thesis!' is fully related to biomedical sciences. The Portuguese team ARTEMIS will study the impacts of hypergravity on the efficiency of gastro-intestinal permeability and drug delivery whilst the Italian team TOFU will investigate the effects of hypergravity on the binding of Tau-proteins to microtubules, trying to better understand the mechanisms of diseases such as Alzheimer.
In order to help the teams to reach their ambitious goals, a special recipe was cooked up for this Gravity-Related Experiments Training Week.
Figure 24: Gravity-related experiments training week group photo (photo credit: ESA)
Step 1 - First contact with gravity
After an introduction to ESA and its activities, the workshop started with a lecture on the history of gravity, from Galileo’s discoveries to ESA future missions such as LISA, which will monitor gravitational waves with three satellites localised at Lagrange Point L1. Not all the students had a space-related background and this first glimpse of space activities raised their interest:
"The GREAT training week was a fruitful experience! […] Being able to be in the Space Agency and contact with space related matters was really a unique opportunity for us and aroused even more interest to the space science," commented a student from Artemis.
Figure 25: Presentation of the effect of gravity on the vestibulo-ocular system (photo credit: ESA)
After such an inspiring way to initiate this week dedicated to gravity-related experiments, practical activities were carried out to demonstrate concrete examples of gravity in our everyday environment. The students had the opportunity to grow their own seeds in a simulated micro-gravity setup to alter natural gravitropism, monitor the effect of gravity on their own vestibular-ocular system and blood pressure.
Step 2 - Glimpse of advice from the platforms’ experts
No one is better able to teach the students how to design experiments for specific platforms than the platform experts. Therefore, engineers and scientists working for the Large Centrifuge Diameter (ESTEC, The Netherlands), the Zero-G A-310 (Novespace, France) and the Bremen Drop Tower (ZARM, Germany) were invited to present their facilities and meet the teams. This prime contact sealed the first of numerous upcoming meetings as the students will also be in direct contact with these experts during the development of their experiment.
These face-to-face meetings enabled the teams to better frame their objectives and make early discoveries of the main technical challenges of their experiments. The sessions with the experts paid off, as students from Black Spheres and AIMIS-FYT remarked.
“All the lectures, training sessions and time with engineers were really well tailored to help define the project properly”.
“The experts shared a lot of helpful information in a very efficient way, which will help us a lot in the upcoming development process”.
In addition, former students who participated in last year’s programs delivered presentations on their own experiences, thus giving precious lessons-learned on the challenges the new teams will face.
Step 3 – A touch of hands-on
The development of an experiment set-up, whether for parabolic flight, drop tower or centrifuge, also requires at least basic engineering knowledge. Hence, interactive workshops on system engineering, 3D design and automation were delivered in order to help the students further develop their skills.
The aim of the system engineering workshop was to provide the students with enough knowledge on setting requirements to their experiments in accordance with ECSS standards, concepts that most students encountered for the first-time last week but are at the heart of all space-related projects.
In order to gain knowledge valuable for the design of their hardware, half of the students attended a workshop on SolidWorks, where they were taught the main rules of Computer-Aided Design. Finally, as for some platforms it will not be possible to manually operate the experiments during their execution, an automation workshop allowed students to learn how to implement automation techniques in experiments.
Step 4 – The final hint of organization
For most students, participating in a hands-on gravity-related project offers them a first encounter to a large project involving many stakeholders and external partners. Topics such as project and risk management, finances, documentation, communication and outreach were discussed in great length. Especially in times of pressure and stress, these aspects are often overlooked, when in reality they are crucial for good project completion. The message was well received by the team: “The lectures about how to manage relationships with stakeholders and the preparatory work before the campaign were fundamental", said one student from team TOFU. Said another, “The training week gave us the opportunity to acquire knowledge about how to manage our project successfully. In particular, what I really appreciated was the part dedicated to project communication because nowadays it's very difficult to sensitize people about scientific research".
The intense week ended with an engaging lecture by the French ESA astronaut Leopold Eyharts, who flew twice, to MIR and the ISS.
Figure 26: Léopold Eyharts, French astronaut, giving a lecture about the International Space Station (photo credit: ESA)
Now that the workshop is over, the teams are back home, motivated to pursue the development of their experiment. Besides preparing the team for the year ahead, the workshop was also valuable from an individual point of view, as summarized by another student from TOFU: "This experience will be one of the most crucial in my professional and scientific development. I've discovered and acquired plenty of tools about thinking, projecting and implementing research, all of which will be determinant in my future career."
Concurrent Engineering takes students to the edge of the Solar System
• 31 January, 2020: 30 university students from 12 different ESA Member States and Canada have begun the new year in style by attending ESA Academy’s latest Concurrent Engineering Workshop. Held from 14 to 17 January 2020, the event took place at ESA Academy’s Training and Learning Facility, ESA-ESEC, Belgium — which is also home to ESA’s educational Concurrent Design Facility (CDF). Providing tuition and technical expertise were two ESA Systems Engineers, supported by a National Trainee as a Systems Engineering Assistant, all from ESA’s Systems and Concurrent Engineering Section. 26)
Figure 27: Group photo of participating students (image credit: ESA)
The workshop’s goal was to familiarize students with the Concurrent Engineering approach, and its many benefits for spacecraft design. Participants would also gain experience with the Open Concurrent Design Tool (OCDT) used in ESA’s CDF.
On the very first day, the students were given their challenge: use Concurrent Engineering to design a mission, called EDGE, to explore our Solar System’s heliopause – the limiting region where the Sun’s solar wind is dissipated by the interstellar medium. To make this ambitious task even more difficult, EDGE would need to be very low-cost, making CubeSat’s technology the practical choice. Could the students work together to complete their design in just four days?
A French student from Institut Polytechnique des Sciences Avancées explained, “It was amazing to share a few days with people with the same passion for space, because if you put them together you can only have an amazing result. It was perfectly balanced between working hard, being super focussed, having fun, improving technical skills, communication skills, working as a big team and celebrating all together.”
The participants got to work right away, splitting into different teams to cover the vital aspects:
- Trajectory analysis
- Attitude and Orbit Control Subsystems (AOCS)
- Communications & Data Handling
- Optics & Sensors.
Figure 28: University students learning about the Concurrent Engineering approach (image credit: ESA)
The ESA Systems Engineers encouraged the students to create several iterations of their designs, with each one an improvement on the previous effort. Assessing the needs and functions of each team was an important early step, before proceeding to consolidate the overall design.
It did not take long before the scale of the task became apparent. Reaching the edge of the Solar System is hugely challenging, especially when restricted to only CubeSats! To tackle the volume and mass constraints while guaranteeing the scientific performance of the mission, they had to consider many different trajectories and system options, including electrical propulsion, gravity assists, a large deployable antenna and a solar reflector.
The students then continued with their refinements, carefully considering what needed extra attention, before the third and final iteration. This allowed further improvements and fine-tuning of all the sub-systems, enhancing the design toward an ultimate convergence of all of the components.
A German student from Darmstadt University of Technology was particularly impressed with what Concurrent Engineering makes possible. “Going from a state of ‘how could we ever hope to achieve this?’ to a concept that actually looks feasible in a matter of days, reiterating and planning together with all subsections present in one room, showed me what the Concurrent Engineering approach is capable of — not just for the space sector, but for every early design phase of a project! I hope to apply it at a future workplace one day.”
To conclude the week, the students presented their results to the ESA experts. They detailed their final design, explaining the trade-offs they had to perform to obtain the best results, as well as proposing potential improvements and open tasks to still be performed. The experts were highly satisfied with the overall design and the results of each team! The students then received their certificate of participation. This document, along with the transcript of the workshop, will allow the participants to claim ECTS credit(s) from their university.
In addition to the workshop’s core challenge, participants also had the chance to play the EcoDesign game, learning about the environmental impacts of a space mission and lifecycle assessments of a satellite. A visit to ESEC-Redu and the PROBA Control Room was also organized, which was greatly enjoyed by all.
“It has been an incredible week,”declared an Italian student from the University of Bristol. “We had full immersion into the process that CDF engineers at ESTEC use every time they develop a space mission concept and assess its feasibility. And we got to use it for an extremely challenging mission. I had the time of my life and would definitely love to wake up every day to go to work if this was my job. This experience has enriched me so much, both professionally and personally. Thanks to everyone that made this possible.”
Figure 29: Final design presentation of the Structures team (image credit: ESA)
University teams rose to the challenge during ‘Fly Your Satellite!’ Selection Workshop this week
• 17 December 2019: For the past week, 9-13 December 2019, 60 university students representing seven teams from seven universities have been taking part in ESA Education’s Fly Your Satellite! Selection Workshop, hosted at ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Center). These participants were vying for the chance to be accepted to the Fly Your Satellite! program, in which they will design, test and launch their own CubeSat – a miniature fully-functional satellite – into space! Having successfully completed the proposal and short-listing processes earlier this year, the Selection Workshop was the mandatory next step toward admission to the program. 27)
Figure 30: Group photo of Selection Workshop attendees (image credit: ESA)
The participating teams and their missions were:
1) Aalto-3, Aalto University, Finland: demonstrate complex signal analysis with a Software-Defined Radio payload.
2) AcubeSAT, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece: demonstrate lab-on-a-chip technology for biological experiments in Low Earth Orbit.
3) CLIMB, University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt, Austria: use a propulsion system to reach the inner Van-Allen belt and measure the radiation environment.
4) MIST, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden: characterize the radiation environment and radiation effects in Low Earth Orbit.
5) SOURCE, University of Stuttgart, Germany: image meteors during entry into Earth’s atmosphere, and characterize re-entry of the CubeSat.
6) UCAnFly, Universidad de Cadiz, Spain: measure magnetic fields with low noise using shielded magnetoresistive sensors.
7) WUSAT-3, University of Warwick, United Kingdom: demonstrate a signal direction finding payload to locate wildlife tracking tags.
Figure 31: FYS (Fly Your Satellite) students attending lectures during the workshop (image credit: ESA)
The students presented their projects (30 minutes per team) to a panel of ESA experts and they were questioned on various aspects of their missions during a subsequent question and answer session. Students were required to justify design decisions to the panel, proving that they and their missions have what it takes to be successful. A set of lectures were offered by ESA specialists, dedicated to equipping potential teams with the knowledge and resources necessary to undertake the first milestones of the Fly Your Satellite! program. The topics of the lectures included project level activities, such as Assembly, Integration and Verification, Product Assurance and CubeSat reliability or Space Debris Mitigation, as well as technical content on the subsystems of a satellite.
The students will now wait for the evaluation outcome and to find out if they can progress to the first phase. Successful teams will then be challenged to prepare for the Critical Design Review of their satellites. To complete this, the selected teams will have to produce a “data package”, which is the documentation to be presented to ESA reviewers so they can assess the readiness and maturity of the selected student teams’ projects. With this information, ESA experts will be equipped to identify any blocking points to be resolved by students in order to pass the Critical Design Review.
• 05 December 2019: Eleni joined ESA in October 2018 to work on the MC (Visual Monitoring Camera) of Mars Express. She shares her experience from ESAC in Spain where she helps observe the red planet. 28)
Hi Eleni, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
- My name is Eleni, I am 23 years old, I was born and raised in the UK but am half British and half Greek. I have been passionate about space since a very young age so after initial studies in Geography, I studied for a Masters Degree in Planetary Science at UCL in London during which time I applied to be a YGT at ESA.
What do you as a YGT?
- At ESA, I work for the Mars Express Mission in the Science Ground Segment Team at ESAC. My role specifically deals with the Visual Monitoring Camera instrument. This is an instrument on-board Mars Express which was originally designed to be an engineering camera and is now used as a scientific instrument.
Figure 32: Photo of Eleni Ravanis at ESA/ESAC (photo credit: ESA, Loraine B)
How did that shift in use come about?
- The VMC (Visual Monitoring Camera) is a wide-angle camera, which means that we can take pictures of Mars with the entire planet, or large regions, in the shot. It is a relatively low-resolution camera but it allows us to collect scientific information and data for atmospheric observation. For example, in the past few days we have seen evidence of high-altitude clouds around Mars, which our science team is studying.
Figure 33: Image from VMC on-board Mars Express acquired on 27 November 2019 (image credit: ESA)
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
- This changes throughout the month as we work through the planning cycle for Mars Express. Over the past couple of days, I have been adding limb observations for VMC, using ESA’s planning program ‘MAPPS’. I find it really exciting to know that we plan these now, and then in about two months a camera orbiting around Mars will take these pictures! The rest of the month, I am working on data processing with our pipeline written in Python, and discussing things like calibration with our science colleagues at the UPV/EHU university in Bilbao. Most of my time right now is spent preparing datasets for ingestion into the Planetary Science Archive, so that VMC data can be more widely used by the community.
Do you have fun?
- Definitely, the Mars Express team are really kind, enthusiastic and supportive, and I was given responsibilities quite quickly which I liked.
Have you always been passionate about space?
- Definitely! Although my undergraduate degree was in geography I have always been passionate about space. Most people think that you have to study physics to work in the space sector, I don’t think that is true. I think it is useful to have a background in geography and/or planetary science and apply that to other areas.
From all the opportunities published, how did you choose the one you applied for?
- I was really interested in Mars missions or future Human Exploration missions so my first action was to look for ‘Mars’ using the search tool! After I narrowed down my selection, I was really inspired by the opportunity related to the Mars Express Mission and happily my background was also better suited to this position.
- Interestingly, during the Young Professional Event at ESA this year, another YGT told me “I almost applied for your position” and the funny thing was that I almost applied for her position! So it ended well that we both applied for the one that we eventually got!
What are your plans for next year?
- I am now into an extension for a second year, so I am very excited to continue my mission with the Mars Express team! After this year, I hope to do a PhD (continuing with Mars science).
And we usually ask for one piece of advice to share with people who would like to apply. What would yours be?
- Apply for the opportunity that you find the most interesting. Look carefully at the criteria, select one and show how it matches your profile and your interests.
- And if you are selected for an interview, and at some point someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, explain how you would try to know. During my interview, my supervisor asked me something I didn’t know. It was a bit daunting, but I replied “ok, now I don’t know, but here is what I would do to find the answer” and that is the attitude they were looking for.
• 02 December 2019: Nicolas Soubirous, Spacecraft Operations Engineer, shares his YGT (Young Graduate Trainee) experience at ESA, working in the EarthCARE, SEOSat & SMOS Missions Operations Unit at ESOC, Germany. 29)
Figure 34: Nicolas Soubirous of France shares his YGT (Young Graduate Trainee) experience at ESA (video credit: ESA)
• 30 November 2019: Ina's YGT experience in space architecture and infrastructure. 30)
Figure 35: Ina Cheibas talks about her Young Graduate Trainee (YGT) experience in the Advanced Concepts Team at ESTEC, The Netherlands, where her role was to propose and develop additive manufacturing techniques for a space habitat with in situ resources (video credit: ESA)
• 26 November 2019: Pierre-Yves Cousteau is a marine conservationist, professional diver and filmmaker. Prior to exploring the oceans like his father Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous undersea explorer, he joined ESA as a Young Graduate Trainee in 2008. Pierre-Yves shares his recollections of ESA and the space sector and his experience of now being the head of his own marine conservation citizen’s organization. 31)
- One of his ongoing activities, Project Hermes, aims to improve climate models by supplementing sea surface temperatures from satellites with in situ measurements, to better understand and protect the ocean.
- Pierre-Yves, after several years, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your YGT experience?
- The amazing colleagues and friends that I met there. I also keep fond memories of casually meeting astronauts in the office hallway, how cool is that? I also remember strolling around the propulsion laboratory and seeing the amazing projects going on in there. ESTEC is such a playground for the mind, constantly stimulating!
- What did you do as a YGT?
- I worked on coordination between the Agency’s engineers and scientists who were planning to fly biology experiments to the International Space Station (ISS). My job was to go back and forth between the two until all requirements for both parties were met. Once done, I gathered all the information into a report, one of the many moving pieces required to take the experiment to the ISS.
- What did you study that led you to this job?
- I started my undergraduate degree in general biology. I was passionate about understanding the origin of life on Earth and exobiology. That quickly brought me from the stars to the oceans, but at the time I joined the International Space University to learn more about space studies.
- This led me to do an internship at NASA Ames. An amazing experience. We went to the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest place on Earth where it rains every eleven years. Due to its surface conditions, it is considered a Mars analogue on Earth. I was in charge of finding and studying nematodes in the soil. These microscopic worms have the uncanny ability to remain dormant in a dry state (anhydrobiosis) for thousands of years until water becomes available again.
- After my internship, I really wanted to understand all these processes of anhydrobiosis and evolutionary biochemistry. So I went back to university for a Master’s degree in biochemistry before I applied for a YGT position in biology at ESTEC.
- And after your YGT, did you continue to work in the space sector?
- I became a diving instructor just before finishing my YGT and while I was scuba diving, I realized that I wanted to focus on that. I really love diving and my name being Cousteau, I thought ‘maybe I should do something about it!’ And I did.
- I founded Cousteau Divers, the organization I’ve run for 10 years, with the aim of bringing together a community of divers and ocean lovers, and giving them a way to effectively share their knowledge of the ocean. Basically, a platform to share what we explore during our dives, pictures of the species we see, how the area evolves. Cousteau Divers has evolved quite a bit in the past ten years and this year we’re launching Project Hermes to monitor climate change beneath the surface of the ocean (www.project-hermes.com).
- Tell us more about Project Hermes!
- What I do now is more related to the conservation of the natural environment on Earth and specifically the oceans. There is such an emergency to protect our planet so I am trying to do my bit in that. - One of the hopes for Project Hermes is to help ground-truth satellites measuring sea surface temperatures and improve climate models.
- The ocean plays a major role in the climate system, it is basically Earth’s air conditioning, absorbing 90% of the planet’s heat. In the shallow areas, there is a lot of exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean through wave action and a lot of the ocean’s biodiversity is located in the coastal areas. Dive computers are unfortunately not accurate enough to measure temperatures for scientific purposes. We are specifically looking to monitor thermoclines, the temperature layers in the oceans where change can be several degrees within a 2-3 cm depth change. There are missing pieces of information today in our understanding of how the oceans work.
- How will temperature be monitored around the world?
- Thanks to the work of Project Hermes volunteers including our two brilliant engineers, Brad Bazemore and Brendon Walters, our device ‘Remora’ was born this year. It can easily be fixed onto a scuba diving tank which means that any diver around the world can participate in this project. The device is a data platform collecting information with high precision and sending it seamlessly to our cloud application in near real-time. The entire project is open-source, and invites divers and engineers to collaborate in better understanding the ocean.
- What’s your advice to students who would like to apply for a YGT?
- Do your best and enjoy the ride. The more you put into your work environment, the more you get out of it. In retrospect (and this doesn’t apply only to my YGT experience but to most of my career and my personal life too), it is not so much where you work and who you work for than who you work with that can shape your experience. At ESA, I found really wonderful, inspiring people who helped me grow as a person, professionally and personally.
Figure 36: Pierre-Yves Cousteau (photo credit: Remy Steiner)
• 25 November 2019: YGT experience in the ESA Future Missions Office. 32)
Figure 37: Priya Patel, System Engineer, talks about her experience as a Young Graduate Trainee (YGT) working on the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna Mission (LISA), video credit: ESA
• 14 September 2019: How to come up with an idea for Mission Space Lab. 33)
Figure 38: For those looking for ideas for Mission Space Lab, this video offers some tips on how to come up with experiments by taking into account the AstroPi sensors available as well as some practical constraints (video credit: ESA)
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).