It takes an expert to navigate in space
Which is one of the most challenging and fascinating disciplines in space science? Flight Dynamics! It takes a lot of knowledge in Vector Algebra, Kinematics, Classical Mechanics and Orbital Mechanics to master the art of flying a spacecraft. People with an outstanding academic background usually hold this position (mostly with Masters and/or PhDs in Aerospace/Aeronautical Engineering, but also Physicists and Mathematicians).
Our Engineering Services division is proud to have such a brilliant team working within the Flight Dynamics Division of ESA/ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany.
Let them help us understand better this fascinating world of orbits and trajectories!
Ramon Pardo de Santayana (FD Team coordinator), what do Flight Dynamics Engineers do exactly?
“FD engineers navigate satellites in space. This means making sure that spacecraft follow the trajectory required to fulfil their mission e.g. reach a particular orbit around the Earth, enter Venus orbit or visit the Jupiter Moons. Additionally, spacecraft need to be accurately pointed such that their payloads are oriented towards their targets e.g. a volcanic eruption on Iceland, a particular star or a Mars valley. All of this while ensuring periodic ground contact monitoring their health and respecting spacecraft constraints: power, thermal, mechanical, etc. For this reasons FD engineers work in close coordination with spacecraft manufacturers, Flight Control Teams, Ground stations, Scientists and Payloads.”
Who is the typical Flight Dynamics Engineer?
“In general FD engineers need to have a deep understanding of mathematics and physics as well as analytical and programming skills. For these reasons, their background is usually from the aerospace engineering field”.
Let’s take a deeper insight into the subsystems and tasks they’re involved with.
Jordi Freixa Mallol about Telemetry Monitoring:
“Raw telemetry is regularly retrieved, processed into physical magnitudes, analysed and archived. Sometimes telemetry is monitored life during important operations (e.g a Launch, deployments, separations, landings) or to give a GO-NOGO”.
David Jesch about Orbit Determination:
“The past trajectory of the satellite can be reconstructed in great accuracy using radiometric data e.g. ranging, Doppler or GPS. Camera images can also be used when navigating around small bodies such as comets or asteroids. The orbit is also propagated into the future using models of the gravity field, atmospheric drag, solar radiation pressure, etc.”
Mikel Catania about Manoeuvre Optimization:
“A manoeuvre strategy has to be put in place to be able to change the current trajectory to follow the planned trajectory. Manoeuvres direction, magnitude and timing have to be optimized to minimize fuel consumption and extend the mission life”.
Juan Manzanero about Command Generation:
“The desired manoeuvres and pointing profiles have to be translated into parameters that the spacecraft understands and are sent via telecommand. Additionally, solar panels have to be oriented towards the Sun and antennae towards the Earth”.
Cristina Santana Camprubi about Test and Validation:
“All operations are checked by a team that runs independent tools in parallel. This ensures the quality and reliability of our processes. In addition to this, the Test and Validation team coordinates all the test, simulations and training campaigns”.
Photo: Cristina Santana Camprubi during a simulation. Credits: ESA/Mai 2018
Ida Larsson works in the Orbital Launch and Rocket Test team, developing and building the new Spaceport Esrange.
14 years of observing the boundary of our Solar System
A belated happy birthday to the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, IBEX. On October 19, this NASA mission celebrated its 14-year anniversary. Together with Northrop Grumman, SSC has been supporting the mission since the start, making it one of the longest still[...]
Debris and congestion – a future challenge in Space
Orbiting the Earth at high speed, a growing number of satellites and more than 130 million pieces of debris constitute a major challenge to future space activities. While thousands of new satellites will be needed in the coming years to[...]
David Hagsved, Project Manager, believes he made the right decision in choosing both workplace and living in the north.
Innovating life on Earth – through space technology
Space business is booming all over the world. And it’s not just out of curiosity or the vanity of billionaires. For humankind to survive, we need to make life on Earth more sustainable, and this can be achieved through innovative[...]
Pascal Daniel Muyovu
Pascal Daniel Muyovu is a Spacecraft Operations Engineer supporting our customer European Space Agency – ESA with groundbreaking, exciting missions.
A promising start to a new space career
Prim Pasuwan was awarded the SGAC World Satellite Business Week (WSBW) Scholarship for her essay within In-Space Logistics.
Exploring the Moon – aiming for the Universe
After fifty years, mankind is going back to the Moon, and this time for a longer stay. Exploring the Moon further is another step towards human development on Earth and a steppingstone for future missions to Mars. Ultimately, aiming for[...]
Half a century in Space – now gazing into the future
Together with NASA, through the Artemis program, SSC is going back to the Moon with plans to explore more of the lunar surface and to build a permanent base camp there. And later preparing for the next giant leap: sending[...]