Climate Buzz

Behind The Scenes at Climate Satellite Mission Control

Yet another climate change monitoring satellite was blasted into space last week. You may know it was launched from Europe’s space port in French Guiana, but where is mission control?

Say hello to the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, just a two hour train ride from the UN’s climate change headquarters in Bonn.

Last week the Daily Planet reported how ESA successfully launched the Sentinel 1B satellite. In the run up to the launch, the European Space Agency (ESA) gave social media users an exclusive, twenty-minute look behind the scenes at its mission control centre.

The new satellite provides more data for the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme, which is working with organisations like Climate-KIC to make sure entrepreneurs, researchers and policy makers get access to it. The data is used to develop climate change solutions back here on Earth.

Spacecraft operations engineer Thomas Ormston and his colleague Daniel Scuka, a senior spacecraft operations editor, used popular live streaming app Periscope to show us some behind the scenes footage – live from mission control in Darmstadt.

New Satellite

Ormston introduced the live stream by letting us know that the satellite was healthy and ready to go (as was the rest of the crew!). He said the mission control team was “talking” to Sentinel 1B via a data link across the Atlantic, where it was located on top of a massive rocket in French Guiana.

At the time of the broadcast, Sentinel 1B had already experienced a couple of failed launch attempts due to high altitude winds. But the team was hoping for better conditions that day.

Maths Geniuses Room

Ormston and Scuka began the tour of the operations building at ESOC by taking us past the “maths geniuses room.” Some of Europe’s best mathematicians work there, according to Ormston,

Although the geniuses were mostly on break, Ormston informed us that they are the people who are responsible for working out all of the coordinates where Sentinel 1B would orbit in once launched. Very important work!

Sentinel Control Room

Next up was the Sentinel control room where Sentinel 1A, 2A and 3 – the new satellite is the fourth Sentinel satellite to go up in space, with many more still to come – were quietly working away on auto-pilot.

The mission control team was using the main control room (next stop of the tour) for the launch of Sentinel 1B. The audience was told the three other satellites are clever enough to run on auto-pilot throughout the night, until the launch is completed.

Ormston showed Periscope users how it is one of ESOC’s traditions that previous ESA missions send “good luck” messages to the upcoming mission. So all of the teams from the other missions got together to post messages on a wall to send off Sentinel 1B.

Main Control Room

In the main control room, Ormston gets a quick chance to speak with some of the team members working on the mission. He spoke to Sebastian, a software co-ordinator who keeps an eye on everyone in the room and investigates any problems that might arise.

He also spoke with Pascal, is a member of the flight control team, and Carlo, a spacecraft operations engineer who the Daily Planet can report also is chairman of the ESOC theatre group!

Briefing Room

The final stop of the tour is the briefing room where the team can go for a break with refreshments and discuss what’s happening with the operations. It is also where ESA hosts VIPs and families during launches.

At the time of the Periscope broadcast, the teams were preparing to handover to the next shift – because mission control is a 24-hour operation.

This was the end of the broadcast. As it turns out, about an hour later the launch countdown was halted once again due to an “anomaly” with the launcher. But the satellite was successfully launched the next day.

Thanks for the tour Thomas and Daniel, we’re looking forward to your next Periscope!

Would you like to use space data to solve problems here on Earth? Find out out how Climate-KIC could help you start your own company.

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