Michael Schmidt

German, Spacecraft Operations Manager, based at ESOC

At university I first studied mechanical engineering and only later branched into aeronautics and space, as I believe it is important to have a good general grounding before specialising. After graduating I worked for a year in Munich analysing and evaluating test results for a company making jet engines. From here I moved to the German Space Operations Centre as an operations engineer and remained with them for about six years working on the preparation and execution of telecommunications related missions such as TV SAT.

My first job with ESA was as a Spacecraft Operations Engineer, supporting the preparation of a European data relay system. At the beginning of my career with ESA I was mainly involved with data relay and Earth observation satellites such as Artemis and ERS, but now I am more involved with scientific satellites such as INTEGRAL, the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory that I am working on now. Gamma-ray astronomy explores the most energetic phenomena occurring in nature and addresses some of the most fundamental problems in physics.

As Spacecraft Operations Manager it is my job to oversee the flight control team and to test the operational ground segment to ensure that everything is functioning well. This job also entails building up a team to work on the satellite’s requirements, follow the development of the ground segment and the satellite, and write the procedures needed to operate it. When INTEGRAL is launched in October 2002 it will push the limits of gamma ray astronomy. For the team and myself, the launch and the following two to three weeks will be the most interesting and challenging period.

I enjoy the variety of my job as it has various facets. Pre-launch it is more concerned with paper work but it changes its focus post-launch when the tasks relate more to analysing data from the satellite and its operations. As Operations Manager I am involved with industry, scientists and with project staff; I have to understand both the satellite and the ground segment. In fact, I become involved in all aspects of the satellite and it is this that makes it so interesting.

If you want to work at ESA it is important to learn languages. As this is a subject that, quite frankly, I neglected when I was at school I have had to make up for lost time since. English and French are particularly important here at ESA but Spanish, Russian and Japanese can also come in useful. I believe it is also important not to specialize too early on in your career and to be flexible. As long as you are interested in different areas you have something else to fall back on if you cannot find a job in one specific area. As it is not easy to get a job with ESA straight from university my advice would be to work first with contractor companies as this provides very useful experience.

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