About KM for spacecraft operations

Huygens' descent and landing in 2005

The knowledge base within ESA's Operations Directorate has grown considerably in the past years as engineers and scientists have, in some cases, spent decades working on the same project or same mission.

Case in point: Cassini-Huygens, a joint ESA/NASA project and one of the most ambitious and successful space missions of all time, took some 22 years from initial conception until the Huygens probe touched down on Titan in January 2005.

ESA's Huygens provided a wealth of information from one of the Solar Systems most enigmatic worlds, while NASA's Cassini is still exploring the Jupiter system and returning stunning scientific results.

During all phases of a mission's operations - launch, early orbit, commissioning, routine operations, life extension and, ultimately, disposal - operations team members have absorbed knowledge and know-how through extensive practical experience and through learning from long-time senior engineers.

Knowledge and know-how at risk

Today, the institutional knowledge base built up within the Operations Directorate is at risk due to various factors:

  • Many experienced engineers, administrators, project managers and scientists are at or soon will reach retirement age
  • There has been an increase in staff and contractor personnel mobility
  • Newly recruited engineers are often, of necessity, immersed into new projects without a substantial introduction to the history, culture and practise of spacecraft operations as a unique discipline in its own right

Additionally, there is an ongoing need to transfer lessons learned from the past to new project teams, to provide team members with suitable tools and techniques to organise and retrieve information and knowledge when they need it, and to institutionalise the best practises for decision making and project management so as to optimise mission safety and success.

KM aims within ESA's Operations team

The Operations Directorate, based at ESOC, the European Space operations Centre, Darmstadt, is therefore keen to develop, in cooperation with oragnisational and industrial partners, a practical and effective KM structure. The aim is to develop a KM process that helps not only the Agency to boost its internal KM practice but also to foster a strong KM network within European industry.


Roberta Mugellesi-Dow, KM Core Team Coordinator
ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt
Tel. +49-6151-90-2683
Roberta.Mugellesi.Dow [@] esa.int

Last update: 21 July 2009

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