A job like no other...Micha Schmidt on his career @ ESA
Micha, what did you study?
Aerospace Engineering at the Technische Universität in Berlin.
Micha’s professional development with ESA
I joined the agency in ESOC/Darmstadt in December 1992 and started working as a Spacecraft Operations Engineer on ESA's Infrared Space Observatory. ISO was launched in 1995. By that time, I was located at the Villafranca Groundstation, which is now the Europan Space Astronomy Center (ESAC). From November 1995 to May 1998 I worked on spacecraft operations for ISO.
In May 1998 I was back at ESOC/Darmstadt as a Spacecraft Operations Engineer on the CLUSTER II mission, which was launched in 2000. Since June 2002 I've worked as the Herschel Spacecraft Operations Manager, responsible for preparing the Herschel Ground Segment and the in-flight Operations implementation. Herschel was launched in May 2009 and I continued as Spacecraft Operations Manager for the LEOP (Launch and Early Operations Phase), Commissioning and Routine Operations Phase of the spacecraft.
Micha’s daily routine...if there is such a thing!
The ratio between management tasks and technical work is 50:50 in a SOM position. There are usually 5 to 8 meetings per week. Interaction with other sites or with internal and external partners is an essential part of my work (industry for s/c operations support; Herschel Science Centre for instrument operations and Mission planning topics; Instrument Teams for instrument operations etc).
In peak times I used to travel once or twice per week, but travel is now more often replaced by video conferences. What needs to be assured is close interaction with all parties involved in spacecraft operations. The S/C and the instruments are prototypes and expert knowledge needs to be transferred from the designer/manufacturer of the s/c and/or instrument to the operations team. In-flight there is also constant and close collaboration of monitoring the health of the systems and reacting to anomalous or changed situations.
From start to finish – Micha explains a typical satellite project
An ESA satellite project typically takes up to 10 years or more. Work in ESOC begins in the early definition phase with compiling mission assumptions and giving support for the definition of the Mission Profile (suitable target orbit, how to accommodate ground station support in the existing to be defined ground station structure etc).
The team for operations support is typically built up some 5 or 6 years prior to launch, starting out with selecting a Spacecraft Operations Manager and one or two engineers. The number of team members is then gradually increased to between 10 to 12 engineers and technicians who need to be able to support the Launch and Early Operations Phase and the Mission Operations in flight.
Is any particular software knowledge required?
The typical tools for engineering are required: knowledge of programming languages and common operating systems.
What advice can you give to students and young graduates applying to ESA?
Apply for the ESA Young Graduate Scheme! If you already have practical experience, apply directly for a staff position.
Milestones of a typical Launch Campaign
- Preparation starts several years prior to launch. Most important is the 'System Validation' which consists of satellite tests while it is still being assembled on the ground. It also comprises of the development of the operational tools.
- Four to five months prior to launch the 'Simulation Campaign' starts. This is the final validation of the systems. At this point the training of the flight operation team also begins.
- After the Launch: immediately after lift-off and separation of the satellite from the launcher, the Spacecraft Operations Team receives the signal from the 'space borne' satellite for the first time. From now on the entire responsibility for operating the spacecraft lies with the Flight Control Team in ESOC.
- The 'Launch and Early Operations Phase' follows right after reception of the first signal from the satellite. The configuration of the spacecraft then needs to be established so that it can start its activities. This typically comprises of the verification of the essential components and systems of the spacecraft (telecommunication systems, attitude control system, data handling system etc.) as well as orbit manoeuvres to bring the spacecraft to its target orbit.
- The 'Commissioning' of the spacecraft and its payload (for instance scientific instruments) is dcarried out between a few days to weeks after the launch. Spacecraft operations then become routine operations.