Renato, who is 27, studied micro-engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. The EPFL team were responsible for putting together the electronics that control and monitor the propulsion system on SSETI Express.
His team was formed after some of the students heard about SSETI at a conference of the International Astronautical Federation held in Amsterdam in 1999. They also read an article about SSETI on ESA’s Web Portal.
What is it like working on SSETI Express?
For me and the rest of the team at EPFL, the experience has been positive and very rewarding. However, it has been difficult to accommodate the project within our regular university courses. We were very lucky to get support from EPFL and in particular from Prof. Y. Perriard who provided us with the necessary laboratory infrastructure and expertise to participate in the project. It has been interesting working with students from other countries as every culture has a different approach. The project taught me to accept other students' approaches and to learn from them.
Has it changed your perception of technical projects?
It has taught me quite a lot about how to fix realistic goals and a timeframe in a technical project, and also about the complexity of apparently simple things. I have also learnt how important it is to document the project correctly.
What is your best memory of being part of SSETI?
I had a great time carrying out functional testing with the team in Stuttgart and I really enjoyed taking part in the workshops at ESTEC. Meeting other SSETI participants and ESA experts was always much more fun then sitting in front of a computer.
What has been the most difficult time?
Without doubt it was in 2003 when the first generation of SSETI students graduated and left the project. They took with them their know how and experience, and at that point an imminent launch seemed unimaginable. Fortunately then some exciting changes took place within SSETI. We formed the SSETI association, the SSETI Express project was started and new teams joined, bringing with them expertise in various important fields.
What has the project given you?
Technically the SSETI experience, which is very hands-on, has complemented the more theoretical studies at university. A very important benefit was the interaction with ESA experts and discussions on how to solve the various problems that we encountered while working on the project.
Have you any stories you can tell us about working on the project?
There are many, but I would like to say that contrary to what one might think of a well structured and organised project, some of our best ideas came in face-to-face spontaneous meetings in a bar over a beer, while drawing ideas on paper napkins or beer mats. During some of these informal sessions we actually attributed teams and agreed to design and build whole sub-systems!
Some of the hardware, ranging from electronic components to our precious UHF antenna, also ended up touring round the pubs and restaurants in Noordwijk, carried in backpacks. Once we even left a laptop, containing all the software for the on-board computer, in a restaurant.
Did you ever think SSETI Express would fail?
Initially yes, as in May 2004 we wanted to prepare the satellite for a possible launch opportunity in November 2004. Fortunately this date was then pushed into 2005.
How will you feel at the launch?
I’m not very nervous about the launch but I'm very anxious about SSETI Express’s first days in orbit when the satellite has to be commissioned. I'm particularly curious about how our sub-system will perform.