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Participants of the 2019 edition of the Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations Training Course

Call for applications for the Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations 2020 training course

15/05/2020 2799 views 9 likes
ESA / Education / ESA Academy

Following the success of ESA Academy’s Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations training courses in the past four years, ESA’s Education Office is offering 30 university students the opportunity to participate again in this course and learn about the fascinating world of spacecraft operations. 

To bring this fascinating world of challenges and satisfaction to life for university students contemplating a career in the space sector, ESA is organising the Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations Training Course, a technical course without excessive mathematics or technical jargon. This 4-day course will take place between the 8th and the 11th of September 2020 at ESA Academy’s Training and Learning Facility in ESEC-Galaxia, Transinne, Belgium.

The course will show students how ‘driving’ a spacecraft is different from designing it. When it comes to spacecraft, it is the launch itself that grabs all the headlines. Once in orbit, we only tend to hear about the satellite again when it returns a great result or a spectacular image. But spacecraft do not take care of themselves on their own.

Students presenting during the Group Work
Students presenting during the Group Work

The unsung heroes of any space mission are the people working in operations. They are the ones who work 24/7 to ensure that the spacecraft is healthy, returning the most data, and functioning at peak efficiency. In addition, these are the operators who diagnose problems with satellites and work out how to make them function properly again.

The course is suitable for BSc, MSc and PhD students who want to quickly acquire a feeling for the broad spectrum of disciplines that are part of spacecraft operations.

Taught by an experienced engineer who works for the Operations Department of ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, the course will be delivered through formal lectures but with a heavy emphasis placed on the interaction with the students. 

Students visiting PROBA spacecraft’s Operations room
Students visiting PROBA spacecraft’s Operations room

The way specific sub-systems of a spacecraft like Attitude, Determination and Control Subsystem (ADCS), Orbit Control System (OCS), Power, On Board Data Handling (OBDH), Telemetry, Telecommunication & Control (TT&C), Thermal and On Board Software (OBS), have been designed has a bearing on the way operations are carried out, and this will be highlighted and discussed. The course will include a session on the physiological traps to be avoided during operations and testing.

Real stories of operational staff battling with wayward spacecraft – sometimes winning and sometimes losing – will be used whenever appropriate. And finally, the participants will take part in a challenge. They will be presented with the operational information received from satellites at the time of a problem. They will have to work out what went wrong and, more importantly, what should be done.

 “If you want to really understand how a spacecraft works this is the right course. It goes through all the subsystems in a way that makes you understand the connection between everything on that spacecraft. All in all it is the perfect opportunity for anyone who is interested in working in the space industry,” said an engineering student from Romania who participated in a previous edition of the training course.

A highlight for the students will be a visit to ESA’s European space Security and Education Centre (ESEC) second site located in Redu. ESEC-Redu is a ground station featuring antennae and operations rooms, where students will get to see spacecraft operations with their own eyes while visiting the PROBA spacecraft’s operations room and will meet ESA’s operations engineers.

Preliminary schedule:

Day 1 Introduction - the difference between design and operations engineers 
Mission design and payloads
Attitude Dynamic and Control Subsystems
Group Work
Day 2 Orbit Control System
Group Work
Day 3 Thermal
Telemetry, Telecommunication & Command
Group Work
Day 4 On Board Data Handling 
On Board Software
Group Challenge and Summary

Who can apply?

Students enrolled in university who fulfil the following criteria:

  • be aged between 18 and 32;
  • be a citizen of an ESA Member State, Canada or Slovenia;
  • be enrolled as a full-time Bachelor, Master, or PhD student in a university for the year 2020-2021;
  • be studying an engineering subject or physics (with basic knowledge in space technology). 

The selected students will be sponsored by ESA. The sponsorship will cover accommodation and meals as well as up to 200 euros for travelling to Belgium.

How to apply?

  • Fill in the application form;
  • Upload a motivation letter (PDF, maximum 1 page, no images);
  • Upload a CV (PDF, Europass form, no images, maximum 2 pages);
  • Upload a formal recommendation letter (PDF, maximum 1 page, including signature, no images) from a university professor or academic supervisor of current university (if not possible due to the current confinement situation in your country, please ask a university professor or an academic supervisor to send a recommendation email to;
  • Upload a copy of academic records (PDF).

All answers and documents should be in English (except academic records if not available). 

The deadline for applications is the 6th of July 2020 23:59 CEST.For more information, please contact tlp @


Applicants are kindly requested to note that, depending on the evolution of the corona virus situation in Europe, and in line with the recommendations of ESA's Director General on travel restrictions for health and safety reasons, the ESA Education Office reserves the right to cancel this ESA Academy's training session, to limit potential exposure of participants or employees to the virus.