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Each team's understanding of spacecraft communications was challenged

New opportunity for students to learn about spacecraft communications

17/10/2019 5252 views 15 likes
ESA / Education / ESA Academy

ESA’s Education Office is looking for 30 engineering university students who would like to be introduced to the fascinating world of spacecraft communications. The Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Communications 2020 will run again between 18 and 21 February 2020 at the ESA Education Training Centre in ESEC-Galaxia, one of the two sites of the European space Security and Education Centre, in Transinne, Belgium. 

It’s easy to take spacecraft communications for granted. Yet the art and science of sending commands to a satellite and receiving data back is of paramount importance. Without highly skilled communications engineers, there would be no space missions.  

This training course, that will be held at ESA Academy’s Training and Learning Facility, will consist of formal lectures with lots of interaction with the students and will be provided by an ESA Engineer from the Advanced Mission Concepts and Management Support Office of the Operations Department of ESOC, the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. He will relay real stories of operations engineers battling wayward spacecraft – sometimes winning and sometimes losing. The way communications systems are designed can have a crucial impact on how they are used and what problems can occur!  

During the week, students will take part in a group exercise in which they will be asked to design a communications system for a mission, which will then experience an anomaly taken from real life. They will be presented with the information available to an operations team at the time the problem occurs and will have to ask themselves "what went wrong?", and more importantly "what can we do now?”.  

At the end of the training course, students will have a solid understanding of the challenges of communicating with a spacecraft and the subsystems involved in communications (both on-board and on the ground): what can go wrong, troubleshooting, and scenarios to be avoided during operations and testing.  

Students learning the basics of spacecraft operations
Students learning the basics of spacecraft operations

Students will be evaluated on the group exercise, and upon completion of the training course will receive a certificate and course transcript, allowing them to claim ECTS credit(s) from their respective universities.  

Students will also get the opportunity to visit ESEC-Redu. This ESA site is part of ESA's tracking station network – ESTRACK – a global system of ground stations that provides links between satellites in orbit and ESOC.  

The core ESTRACK network comprises nine stations in seven countries. At ESEC-Redu, the centrepiece is the 15m-radio dish, but there is also a 13.5m and a 2.4m dish. In between lectures, students will visit the PROBA satellite’s control room and antennas to see backend equipment and will have the chance to talk with ESA’s operations engineers.  

Preliminary schedule:

Day 1    Introduction
  The Challenge
  Group Exercise
Day 2    Demodulation
  Group Exercise
Day 3    Protocols
  Radio Frequency transmissions/reception
  Visit of ESEC-Redu
  Link Budgets
  Group Exercise
Day 4    Real Ground Stations
  Summary of the Group Exercise

Students wishing to apply for the training course must submit their applications by 9 December 2019.

More information:

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 States, Canada and Slovenia;
  • be enrolled as a full-time 3rd / 4th year Bachelor, Master, or PhD student in a university for the year 2019-2020 (not graduating before the training course);
  • be studying an engineering subject.

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 (Europass format, PDF, 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;
  • Upload a copy of academic records (PDF, in English, with the university stamp).

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

For more information, please contact