The Sentinel-3 system explained
Kevin Marston, EUMETSAT's Sentinel-3 Systems Operations Manager, talks about the challenges and variety of his job
Anticipating the unexpected, and ensuring the right people are in the right place at the right time to deal with it, might seem like a challenge at the best of times.
For a Satellite Systems Operations Manager though, this is the daily routine.
Added to that equation is Sentinel-3, where Systems Operations Manager Kevin Marston, as the joint Operations Preparation Integrated Team (OPIT) manager, is responsible for a new, more highly automated system, with new instruments, delivering significantly increased amounts of data through a complex ground system.
“I have no problem with the challenges of it,” Marston said, “(but) I’m looking forward to getting to the point where you do feel comfortable and can see it’s ready and we can get it operational.
“I enjoy the wide variety of my job. There are not enough hours in the day and there are a lot of other activities to perform in parallel – it jumps from technical to managerial. I’m part of a hard working professional team and I really enjoy working with them all.”
Marston’s responsibility is to transition the Sentinel-3 system from its development phase to its operational phase, ensuring all aspects work smoothly, from commanding and monitoring the spacecraft and keeping it safe, through to the capability to disseminate mission data to the user community and archive it appropriately.
"the operations for each new programme vary and present new challenges "
“A lot of this involves building on our existing multi-mission systems,” he clarified. “However, the operations for each new programme vary and present new challenges. For instance, on Sentinel-3, we will only have one controller responsible for both space and ground segment, so have to ensure that the operations and automation are tuned to enable this role to be performed effectively and efficiently.
“In terms of the Flight Operations Systems (FOS), we have already communicated with the satellite in rehearsals and know it works, and the flight control team are well prepared. We have this component of the ground segment in place and established.
“The Payload Data Ground Segment (PDGS) is a brand new system, developed under the responsibility of ESRIN (ESA’s European Space Research Institute in Italy). The two systems (FOS and PDGS) have to be seen as one operational system at ground segment level and we need to ensure we keep looking at the whole, bigger picture.”
“Although the system is complex, it is no more complex than that for other EUMETSAT ground segments, such as the EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS),” Marston said.
“We also have to assure the quality of the data. The products available for users should be significantly better from the new instruments.
“There will be an order of magnitude more data and the accuracy of the measurements coming from the instruments is higher. The communications network has been increased in size, in preparation to get the increased data volumes through the system.
"It’s like going from an old PC to a new PC – we have expectations that things increase over time and we need higher processing power"
“It’s like going from an old PC to a new PC – we have expectations that things increase over time and, in order to deal with that amount of data, we need higher processing power. Likewise, our archive system has to be scoped to take the data we are talking about.”
EUMETSAT’s Sentinel-3 team is small but it comprises an extremely dedicated group of people who are working long hours to ensure the system works, he said.
Although not fazed by the challenges involved, Marston says he is looking forward to the day when the first data gets through the system operationally, once EUMETSAT takes over day-to-day operations.
Sentinel-3 is part of a series of Sentinel satellites which will take a continuous ‘health check’ of the planet, under the European Union’s Copernicus Programme. EUMETSAT is tasked with the routine operation and control of the satellite, with support from the European Space Agency (ESA), and to deliver its marine mission, measuring ocean colour, sea surface temperature and sea surface height.
ESA will operate the satellite for the first five months from its launch during the commissioning phase, with EUMETSAT gradually taking over the day-to-day control of the spacecraft.