Sascha, who is 23, is studying aerospace engineering at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. He heard about the SSETI Programme from fellow students who had already joined the propulsion team.
What is your role in SSETI Express?
I’ve been a member of the SSETI Programme since March 2002 when I joined the propulsion team. At first I worked on tubing and the calculation of pressure losses. Then in July 2004 I became vice-coordinator of the propulsion team and responsible for the assembly, integration and verification of the propulsion payload system. In November 2004 I was made coordinator for the propulsion system on Express.
How have you found the experience?
It’s been a mixed experience. In the beginning it was very difficult because it is not just an idea – it’s a real satellite! At first I didn’t find it easy to speak with experts, but I soon got over that thanks to their encouragement and motivation. I learnt from them that there are no silly questions just silly answers!
It’s also time consuming, although the amount of time you spend depends on your dedication to the project and your sub-system. I lost approximately one year at university as my university does not give credits for work on SSETI.
Working on SSETI is rewarding as it’s a unique opportunity for everybody. I’m proud to be part of it and grateful to the SSETI Programme for the chance to take part. It’s hard to find the right words to explain all the things we’ve done and what they mean. Just one small example: we have been able to present papers on our work at conferences, an opportunity that does not arise very often for students.
It’s also been a lot of fun too. You’re part of a unique project and you meet interesting people from all over Europe. There is this very special feeling when you finish an important step in integration or a successful test.
Has the experience been different to what you expected?
Yes, it’s been more work and there’s been less time! Sometimes it’s been difficult to motivate team members and to find sponsors. There have also been problems at university and taking part has been more expensive than I thought.
What is it like working with people from different countries/cultures/methods? Has it changed your perception of other countries?
It’s not always easy as everyone has different opinions, but the mix of different cultures has had an interesting influence on the project. You learn a lot. I never knew for instance that the Scandinavians worked in so many space projects. I was impressed by their work and knowledge.
What is it like working in a distributed team?
Sometimes difficult because if you have a problem you can’t just go into another room and ask someone, you have to wait for an answer.
Has working on the project made any difference to your future plans or studies?
Yes, I’m even more fascinated by space projects, especially satellites.
Has it changed your perception of technical projects?
Surprisingly I found that the technical problems are not so difficult, we had more problems with management stuff such as motivation, finding sponsors, documentation, etc.
Best memories of being part of SSETI?
Mine are taking part in the workshops at ESTEC, friendships with students from all over Europe and great discussions with experts.
Did you ever think the project would fail?
We certainly had difficult times. Once we scheduled only 3 days to integrate the propulsion system into the primary structure. This was impossible but we were encouraged by our project manager and completed the integration with the enormous help of the system engineering team. On another occasion we had leakage after the pressurised vibration test that took place at the Industrieanlagen – Betriebsgesellschaft (IABG) test facilities in Munich. Again help was at hand, this time from IABG staff and the ESA Cryosat team and, once again, the system engineering team.
You will be present at the launch, how do you think you will feel?
I’ll have mixed feelings: on the one hand it’s great to see that all the work has come to an end and that we have finally reached this last step, but on the other hand it was a great time and now ‘our child’ is gone.
Do you think you will still remember SSETI in 30 years?
Of course, this is where I started to fall in love with working in the space industry and on space projects!