The Sentinel-3 Project – a new way of working

More automation and closer cooperation are features of the Sentinel-3 project, says EUMETSAT’s Project Manager Hilary Wilson

An important feature of the Sentinel-3 spacecraft is its high level of automation – not just as it relates to how the satellite itself is monitored and controlled but also how the data are processed on the ground.

EUMETSAT’s Sentinel-3 Project Manager Hilary Wilson, who is responsible for managing the development phase of the organisation’s Sentinel-3 ground segment, says this is just one of the ways the project has required a new way of working.

“The spacecraft is highly autonomous and nominally will require only one pass per day for commanding, with access to one other pass for contingency,” Wilson said. “The production of Sentinel-3 products is also highly automated and data-driven.  As soon as the data from the satellite are available on ground, processing of the associated products is initiated.

“This allows us to have a very efficient and cost effective operations concept with only a single controller, who will be responsible for operating the spacecraft and the ground processing.

"Each product type has a specific ‘recipe’...As soon as the system sees that, ‘I have all the specified ingredients’, it kicks off the related processing"

“Each product type has a specific ‘recipe’.  You know what the ingredients for this particular recipe are, for example, to use a baking analogy, eggs, flour, butter, milk and raisins.  As soon as the system sees that, ‘I have all the specified ingredients’, it kicks off the related processing.

“The system is highly intelligent and is able to determine for example that, ‘If I have no raisins, I can use sultanas instead and so initiate the processing without a substantial delay’.  However, if after a certain period of time, a critical, mandatory, ingredient has still not arrived, for example, the eggs, then an alarm can be raised to alert the operator, who may still be able to react to solve the issue and maintain the timely product delivery to our users.

“This Sentinel-3 system is similar to how our existing systems such as the EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS) work but they tend to be more schedule-driven, while Sentinel-3 is more data-driven.”

Under an agreement with the European Commission as part of its Copernicus Programme, EUMETSAT has responsibility for the routine operations of the Sentinel-3 satellites.  Sentinel-3A is due to be launched early in 2016, with Sentinel-3B to be launched about 18 months afterwards.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is responsible for the development of the satellites and the performance of the launch and early operations phase activities with EUMETSAT in a support role.  After commissioning of the space and ground segment, which is expected to last five months, EUMETSAT will take over the responsibility for the routine operation and control of the satellite and the marine data processing from its control room in Darmstadt, Germany, as well as dissemination of the data to the marine users and the long term archiving.

Sentinel-3 is part of a series of Sentinel satellites which will take a continuous ‘health check’ of the Earth under the Copernicus Programme.  EUMETSAT is responsible for serving the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service and other members of the marine community providing ocean colour, sea surface temperature and sea surface height measurements.  ESA will similarly serve the members of the land community.

Another major difference with the Sentinel-3 project is the degree of cooperation with ESA, although ESA and EUMETSAT have a long history of collaboration, with ESA being responsible for the development of the EUMETSAT satellites. This is the first time that they have worked together to build a ground segment. 

"It’s a new way of working for both partners, and has brought both challenges and benefits"

“ESA is the design authority for the project,” Wilson said.  “We have established joint teams with ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt for the Flight Operations Segment specification and development, as well as establishing a combined Flight Control Team.  With ESA’s European Space Research Institute (ESRIN), in Frascati, Italy, a joint team has specified and procured the Payload Data Ground Segment.  In addition EUMETSAT has been responsible for the direct procurement of certain Sentinel-3 facilities, as well as performing the in-house development of the multi-mission elements, for example the EUMETSAT Data Centre and EUMETCast.

“It’s a new way of working for both partners, and has brought both challenges and benefits. 

“Although the organisations often have different ways of doing things, we have learned positive things that ESA do that we can adopt and I think we have also brought alternative ways of doing things that they have seen and appreciated.

“My role is basically overseeing the activities that are performed in-house and coordinating with our partners.  My prime focus recently has been ensuring that the EUMETSAT parts of the system were ready to be integrated and tested and now are ready to support the launch and commissioning activities.”

Wilson said that, on a personal note, two aspects of the team-work involved have impressed her most. 

One is the ongoing passion and dedication of her EUMETSAT colleagues and the other is the number of senior female colleagues involved in the project, more than on any on which she has worked before in what is usually a male-dominated environment. 

“It may just be a coincidence,” she said, “but it has been refreshing and encouraging in equal measures, as I am very keen to promote and encourage careers in science and engineering for women.”

The Sentinel-3 team at EUMETSAT was “incredibly tiny” to start with but what it lacked in size, it made up for in quality and commitment, Wilson said.

“Because we are a small team, we are close-knit and, as a consequence, people have done and continue to work hard for Sentinel-3 – over and above that which would normally be expected of them – because they are passionate about this project,” she said.

Last Updated:  Wednesday, 03 February 2016