New approach brings benefits and challenges

Sentinel-3’s higher level of on-board automation is the way of the future, says Spacecraft Operations Manager Dominique Montero

The Sentinel-3 spacecraft’s ultimate benefits for users are clear – an exponentially increased amount of data will be delivered by new and better instruments.  But the satellite will also bring benefits, as well as pose challenges, to its controllers at EUMETSAT, thanks to the high level of on-board automation.

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 and the related ground segment, 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, then EUMETSAT will take over the day-to-day control of the spacecraft.

EUMETSAT Sentinel-3 Spacecraft Operations Manager Dominique Montero said that, like the EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS) MetOp meteorological satellites, Sentinel-3 will orbit the Earth in a low orbit 14 times each day, however, there are significant differences in how the two types of spacecraft will be controlled.

"Sentinel-3’s new command and control aspect is definitely the way to go in the future"

“Every satellite requires different command and control procedures and for Sentinel-3 we have to develop completely different procedures,” Montero said.

“What’s more important in relation to Sentinel-3 is the way we will be operating it. There is a lot of automation on board controlling the satellite.

“We will only have access to two passes per day - with MetOp, we have access to 14 passes per day – but Sentinel-3 is designed for this. 

“Because we have no visibility between passes, we have to anticipate what could happen and have this already designed within the satellite.”

Montero said the higher level of automation was the way of the future and is being envisaged for the EPS Second Generation satellites, due to be operational in the 2020-2040 timeframe.

“Sentinel-3’s new command and control aspect is definitely the way to go in the future,” he said.

"It will provide about 10 times more data than MetOp but will be less demanding in terms of operations"

“It will provide about 10 times more data than MetOp but will be less demanding in terms of operations.  We have the concept of one controller doing each shift on the ground system, while MetOp has two people.  The controllers will have more responsibility.”

To ensure the process of taking over routine operations of the satellite goes as smoothly as possible, an integrated team of three engineers has been sharing its time between ESOC and EUMETSAT. Five months after the launch, the EUMETSAT experts currently working at ESOC will come back to EUMETSAT to take over daily operations of the satellite

“We have a similar control centre here, based on the same system installed at ESOC,” Montero said.

“During the preparation phase, procedures developed with ESOC are imported and encapsulated here (at EUMETSAT).  We have to add an additional layer of EUMETSAT processes to take over the operations.”

Montero said the process has been complex, not just with the normal job complexity associated with a new satellite, new payload and mission, but also with the organisational set-up, necessitating all the partners working together.

Last Updated:  Tuesday, 02 February 2016