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To detect problems as early as possible, engineers in ESOC's Ground Segment Reference facility (GSRF) work together with the teams that will fly a mission to define the scope of testing needed for their specific ground segment.
They also work in advance to deploy a safe and as-real-as-possible set of mission control hardware and software, so that the ground segment to be tested ‘thinks’ it is communicating with a real ground station, transmitting commands to a real spacecraft and receiving real ‘telemetry’ – onboard status info – from a satellite, for example, orbiting Mars or Mercury. All in a safe and fully controlled lab environment.
To achieve this, engineers use sophisticated simulator software to mimic the spacecraft and that responds precisely as the real satellite will when it’s in orbit.
“These simulators are developed by European industry and they enable us to test and validate ground segment components in a very realistic way,” says ESA engineer Christopher Smith, responsible for designing test scenarios.