Getting it right first time /VEGA

When the first major Turkish Earth Observation satellite lifts of

Tarih: Issue 12 - October 2008

If a problem occurs on the satellite, there is very little the manufacturers can do after launch to repair it. But the launch is just the start for those responsible for the ground infrastructure and operations.

VEGA engineers know the tense feeling at the launch very well. It has been our job in over 50 launches stretching back more than 30 years to make sure that the ground systems are fit for purpose, the operational procedures are error-free and that the spacecraft control team are ready to deal with any emergency that might arise.
The Simulations Campaign
You wouldn’t expect an F-16 pilot to fly his aircraft without years of training and spending hundreds of hours in a flight simulator. And in VEGA’s opinion, you shouldn’t let anyone fly a satellite without realistic training in dealing with the many contingencies that could arise.

VEGA has been planning and running simulations campaigns at ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany for more than 20 years. These campaigns are designed to ensure the team are ready for all eventualities through launch preparation, launch and operations phases. The campaign also helps to ensure the ground infrastructure systems, which the operations engineers use to monitor and control the satellite, are tested and ready. During the simulations campaign, the operations team train in the real working environment – the mission control room.

By the time the day of the launch arrives, the spacecraft control team will have dealt with more emergencies than they are ever likely to face during the mission itself. They are ready for the task at hand.

The Simulator
At the heart of the simulations campaign is the spacecraft simulator. VEGA has developed such simulators for more than 20 satellite programmes.

The simulator provides a realistic virtual representation of the satellite, environment and ground stations. It also includes the ability to inject failures into the simulated satellite equipment to support contingency operation training.

The simulator must be robust from a software point of view and available to the operations team well in advance of launch to allow the simulations campaign to take place. The simulator must also be flexible enough to cope with changes to the satellite design. Typically, VEGA develop simulators which emulate the on-board software processor – this then allows the actual on-board software to be executed within the simulated satellite environment.

VEGA’s pedigree as satellite engineers and software engineers means we know how to build cost-effective, accurate and robust simulators that not only support the launch preparations but can be used throughout the mission to test changes to the satellite flight software or new releases of the control systems.

The Operational Concept
At the start of the programme, much attention is paid to the satellite design. However, the concept of operations of the satellite is equally important, both from a cost and an efficiency point of view. Decisions on satellite design can drive the operations concept and vice versa.

Issues such as on-board autonomy, on-board software maintenance and mission planning, all have a significant effect on the operations of a satellite. It is clear that operation costs are a key driver for a programme’s overall ground segment costs. For instance, increased autonomy on board can lead to reduced operations overhead. However, it can also lead to increased complexity of the satellite design. This is why it is critical that consideration of the operations concept is taken into account early.

VEGA’s heritage is in spacecraft operations. We have helped set up different types of operations concepts and written the detailed procedures for more than 50 satellites.
Training The Control Team
Space controllers need the right level of basic qualification, the right attitude to their job and the right level of training. Through our long experience in the defence industry, VEGA is skilled in the discipline of Training Needs Analysis – both for individuals and teams. It is this skill that allows us to devise the training programmes described earlier in this article.

During routine operations, satellite control is normally a very low-key activity. But you never know when a contingency may arise and the team must be ready to deal with it. Continuation of the training is also a key issue – team members move on, newcomers arrive and must be trained in the usage of the system.

Training solutions are an integral part of any complex programme – VEGA fully understands this and it is a critical element of our procurement support capability.

Sharing Best Practice between Aerospace and Defence
For VEGA, training requires a combination of psychology, technology and process. We have been training personnel in both the defence and space domains for many years and we constantly seek to share best practice in all areas between industries.

The Swiss Air Force required a training system for their chosen Cougar helicopter system that would allow their pilots to undertake additional conversion and refresher training that was not dependent on the availability of instructors or access to full flight simulators. VEGA developed the COUGAR Aircrew Training System to support this pilot training. The training system drew on VEGA’s long heritage in providing defence training systems. The training system combined training courseware and simulation in a consistent user interface.

Using our experiences from defence training systems, VEGA has developed the Spacecraft Operations Training Centre, which is focused towards training satellite engineering and spacecraft operations. It combines tutorial material together with satellite simulation and mission control system to provide effective and high-quality training in mission operations.

Space missions and military missions both need to be prepared with great attention to detail. People, systems and processes all need to work together in an optimum manner. By working hard in the years before a satellite launch, one can be confident that, when the countdown reaches zero, everything will function as planned.

Ground System Procurement
For reconnaissance satellites, the ground segment is often considered in two parts. The Flight Operations Segment is responsible for keeping the satellite platform healthy in its planned orbit. The Payload Data Segment is responsible for ensuring that the data derived from the satellite’s sensors reaches its users in a form that they can carry out their jobs. VEGA has deep experience in both parts.

The European Space Agency’s operations facility ESOC in Darmstadt has a long and highly successful track record in ground system development and operations. VEGA has been supporting ESOC since the company was founded in 1978. VEGA currently have over 50 employees working on site at ESOC’s premises, supporting mission operations, network systems engineering and ground segment communications.

From our offices in Darmstadt, VEGA provide further support to ESOC in terms of new ground segment infrastructure development and maintenance of existing infrastructure. VEGA develop and support SCOS-2000-based mission control systems, mission planning systems, ground station monitoring and control systems, communication gateways for protocols such as Space Link Extension (SLE), and of course simulations infrastructure and development.

With over 80 professionals based at our Darmstadt offices, VEGA also works with other European Institutional and Defence organisations to support their satellite and ground system procurements. This includes, amongst others, EUMETSAT, DLR (the German Aerospace Centre), and the major European primes EADS Astrium and Thales-Alenia Space.

Performance of the ground segment infrastructure is critical to mission success and an area in which VEGA engineers and consultants have a massive amount of experience.