On Halloween Day, the EIRSAT-1 team took part in an all-day Operations workshop with Dr. Ed Chester. Ed has extensive experience in the space industry, having been part of the flight operations team for the Beagle-2 lander mission to Mars and having worked in integration and operations preparation for large missions including Herschel and Planck at ESA. Ed lent his Operations experience to the EIRSAT-1 team for the day to ensure that we are well prepared to design operational procedures for our satellite. Ed pointed out the reason for our operations workshop :
“EIRSAT-1 is already a very well designed and well documented mission and spacecraft. By thoroughly exploring the operations aspects during the design phase, you find any inconsistencies early, and reduce risk to the overall project”
So what is an operational procedure? Simply put, it is the commands that are sent from the ground to the spacecraft, and a model of expectations for its behaviour in response, including telemetry data. An operator will sit at our ground station in the UCD School of Physics, and if we need to tell the satellite to do something different, these procedures lay out the step by step process for the operator to follow.
Ed took us through the basics of operational procedures and then we began to define modes of operation for EIRSAT-1. Modes are a way of defining specific stages of the satellite’s behaviour – for example, what the satellite does immediately post-launch is different to what it does when it is collecting data. We defined EIRSAT-1’s modes and which subsystems are operating in each mode.
Ed showed us the timeline what orbits look like – for example some orbits will require us to downlink data from EIRSAT-1 and some will require us to uplink data to the satellite. We also walked through the structure of telemetry packets. Telemetry is the data that we receive from EIRSAT-1 and it will have a specific structure. To end the day, we discussed what needs to be done next. Ed helped us draw up a plan to completely define operational procedures for EIRSAT-1 in the coming weeks. Ed commented
“A rule of thumb for operations concept planning – always assume something breaks. Every time. What can you do about it? And yes – sometimes that means the design of the spacecraft itself has to be changed.”
With this in mind, we will continue to work on operations. By the end of the day we had learned a huge amount about operations and we are equipped to continue to work on them. Ed’s willingness to help us is incredible and we really appreciate it! We hope to do him proud in the coming weeks, as we meet a few times each week to discuss procedures and continue to define and expand on them. I will leave the final remark to Ed, who very kindly said “It’s amazing how much has been achieved by such a small team.” It is only through the support and help of experts like Ed that we can continue to progress – we thank him!