As the Eurockot Project Manager for Swarm, Yelena Brandt was responsible for one of the most critical phase in the life of a satellite mission: the launch. Elena talks about Eurockot and what makes the Rockot launcher an ideal vehicle for launching Earth observation missions such as Swarm.
Yelena, a Russian–German national, has been part of the technical team at Eurockot since 1999 and has worked as a Project Manager since 2002. She first managed the Multiple Orbital Mission, which involved launching eight small satellites at once for different agencies and institutes, and then ESA’s GOCE mission. She then started as the Swarm Project Manager in 2010.
Before joining Eurockot she worked in the Russia’s space industry for 10 years, at RSC Energia. She was involved with a number of projects such as the Mir-Shuttle, ATV and DMS-R for the International Space Station.
Yelena graduated as an Aerospace Engineer from the Baumann Technical University in Moscow, Russia.
ESA: What did your role entail?
I had to make sure that the satellite requirements were well understood, documented and implemented by the launcher manufacturer. This had to be carried out at all the different phases of the project, such as preliminary and final mission analyses, separation system development, fit check, launch campaign preparation, etc.
In particular, the satellite magnetic sensitivity demanded extensive efforts from our side.
ESA: What challenges did launching three satellites at once pose?
The biggest challenge was to design and test an individual specific separation system. Experts from Khrunichev did a great job ensuring a collision-free separation of the three satellites and Breeze-KM.
ESA: What are the peculiarities of launching from Plesetsk?
The Plesetsk launch site was and still is a military range. The means, for example, that only people with clearance are allowed to enter the site. The bureaucracy that we confronted was not very helpful in this respect. Foreigners are only allowed to move around within a limited area, even in the town. Everywhere else they have to be escorted.
Information flow from the military is also usually very restricted. And since they are the owners of the site, they enforce rules and sometimes the daily time-line, which sometimes conflicts with the project’s schedule.
However, all difficulties can be overcome if you build good personal relationships with the local personnel.
ESA: Could you tell us a little about the history of the Rockot launcher?
It started at the beginning of 1990s, following the US–Russian treaty on reducing nuclear weapons. At the time there was a need for an economic way of launching constellations such as Iridium and Globalstar and the idea was born to convert the former SS-19 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles into a launch vehicle, with the help of an ‘intelligent’ upper stage. This stage, called Breeze-KM, was designed by the Khrunichev Space Center. The upper stage, the satellite adapter and the payload fairing are manufactured at the Khrunichev Center specifically for each new mission.
This is one in a series of interviews with a few of the key people that are involved in the Swam mission. Please check back as the list will be added to over the coming weeks.