Rocío Martín Pardo

Keeping the data flowing


Meet Rocío Martín Pardo, one of many behind the Meteosat Third Generation mission

Rocío Martín Pardo
Rocío Martín Pardo

As we gear up for the end-of-the-year launch of the first of the Meteosat Third Generation satellites, we’re shining a spotlight on the experts who are making this mission happen.

Last Updated

17 October 2022

Published on

17 October 2022

When Rocío Martín Pardo explains her job to a new person, she looks to Hollywood for help.

“I ask, ‘You know those big dish-shaped antennas on the ground that people in movies use for making alien contact?’” she said. “I work with antennas like those.”

Of course, the antennas Pardo deals with are not used to facilitate communication with extraterrestrial lifeforms. Rather, as Ground Stations Operations Manager, she is responsible for ensuring that the data from the new fleet of Meteosat Third Generation satellites reach the people who use them.

Set to launch near the end of the year, the first of these satellites, MTG-I1, will transmit data that experts can use to forecast and track storms, monitor wildfires, and increase agricultural productivity, among other purposes. Pardo ensures that these data are transmitted continuously from the satellites to antennas in Lario, Italy and Leuk, Switzerland before being transmitted onward to the geostationary mission control centre at EUMETSAT headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. 

“Think of my team as the plug for your internet cable,” she said. “Basically, we try to make sure the cable is correctly aligned with the plug and not coming out, so that no data are lost.”

She also oversees another crucial component of the ground station, the antennas in Fucino, Italy and Cheia, Romania that receive data about the health of the satellites and send them along to the control centre. There, flight control teams send commands back through those same stations in order to adjust the satellites’ flight path and instruments as needed.

She likens this to the remote controller for a drone.

“We are like the joystick that, by pivoting, tells the spacecraft to move up or down,” Pardo said.

“In addition, we also receive important information that lets us know that the satellite is in good shape through the monitoring of thousands of parameters such as battery charge status, signal strength, and temperature.”

Rocío Martín Pardo
Rocío Martín Pardo, Ground Stations Operations Manager

Certain design features in the ground stations ensure that the data flow with as little interruption as possible. Two of the ground stations are located on opposite sides of the Wasenhorn, a more than 3,000 metre-high mountain in the Alps, increasing the likelihood that when heavy rain or a thunderstorm affects one ground station, the other will remain unaffected. And if an antenna breaks, there are a number of other antennas – both at the same site or at another site – that can take over.

Despite the robustness of the ground segment, sometimes the flow of data can be impeded, requiring Pardo to enter detective-mode in order to identify the issue. Her biggest challenge is uncovering these more mysterious causes of interference in the data.

For example, in 2018 there was interference in the data transmitted by EUMETSAT Polar System satellites to a ground station on Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean. Thanks to the investigation by Pardo’s team, in collaboration with an on-site team at the station, they discovered that the same frequency band being used to transmit data from the satellite to the ground station was also being used by a fishing boat to track the boat’s location. This meant that when one of the ground station’s antennas was pointed in the direction of the boat, it mistook the boat for the satellite.

“Now that the station knows about that problem, they just tell us when there is fishing boat interference,” she said. “So we know that if we point our antenna there, we will have a problem.

“Once we know about a problem, the objective is to fix the root cause. But this isn’t always possible. When it’s not, we figure out how to work with the problem and adapt to it in the best possible way.”


Sarah Puschmann