Michael Jones - Impressions on 35 years at ESOC
Mike Jones retired in March 2009 after 35 years of service at ESOC. He has a unique and valuable perspective on how change has affected the engineering discipline of spacecraft operations over four decades, and says that one big change has been the implementation of the Ground Segment Manager position, which has created a long-term, trusting customer-supplier relationship between engineers who operate missions and those who build the ground segment infrastructure.
Michael Jones arrived at ESOC as a contractor in 1974 and became an ESA staff member in 1979. He has held a variety of positions and functions over the years, including computer systems procurement in the former ESA Computer Department and ground segment management in the Mission Technical Coordination Office for the ERS-1 mission. He became Section Head in the Data Processing Division in 1984, where he was responsible for mission control systems for science missions, notably Ulysses, Hipparcos and Eureca.
From 1992, he was responsible for developing a new generation of software including the SCOS-2000 ground operating system. In 2002, he was appointed Head of the Mission Data Systems Division responsible for the provision of mission data systems for all ESA missions operated at ESOC and for third-party missions.
ESA: What have been the most significant developments at ESOC in the past 35 years?
I have noticed a huge change in ESOC over the last 35 years. Until the 1980s, ESOC was a 'pioneering' place with fewer projects than today. The fact that we now have a well-established infrastructure in the ground stations, in the mission control systems and for simulations, increases trust on the satellite operations side.
This was fostered by a very decisive positive change, introduced by Dave Dale, the former Director at ESOC, to introduce the position of Ground Segment Manager. This new position created a long-term, healthy customer-supplier relationship between the missions, on the customer side, and the ground engineering teams, on the supplier side.
The introduction of ISO 9001, also under Dave Dale, resulted in formal recognion of the spectrum of skills at ESOC and greatly increased the self-confidence of the Centre.
ESA: Are you nostalgic for the old days?
No, I certainly am not. Our working atmosphere has become much more civilised and collegial. Also, training people in soft skills has certainly helped to strengthen people's willingness to discuss differences, to understand the views of colleagues and to find compromises. So we have made a lot of progress. A new generation of management is in place now, which is well connected with day-to-day work in projects and this promotes better team work.
ESA: What activities did you do outside of regular work?
Making music with other people means a lot to me. I was a founding member of the ESOC Chorus and that was an important part of my life outside professional duties. Music helps one switch off from the stress at work and connect with people. Besides choral singing and playing the piano, I am also an enthusiast for English literature and poetry.
ESA: What were the most memorable work projects for you?
In 1993 I became responsible for infrastructure software with Jean-François Kaufeler heading the Data Processing Division at the time. My key project was SCOS-2, a most difficult project as a brand-new mission control system had to be developed from scratch using new technologies. In addition, user requirements were far too ambitious for the money that was available. However, all's well that ends well, since - finally - in 1997, SCOS-2 supported three missions, namely MTP, TEAMSAT and Huygens, and gradually became accepted by the user community. As 'SCOS-2000', it's been a roaring success ever since.