Karl Kaas Laursen

Karl is one of the few lucky people who will be present in Russia during the launch campaign as he is responsible for the spacecraft’s electronics and for the CubeSats.

Aged 25, Karl is a Danish PhD student studying control engineering for intelligent autonomous systems at Aalborg University. He coordinated the team working on the on-board computer and also developed the software for use by radio amateurs who want to communicate with SSETI Express.

When he joined SSETI at the beginning of 2004 Karl was already working on the on-board computer as part of his university studies. He heard about the programme from a fellow student who joined SSETI when he did a student placement at ESTEC.

What has it been like working on SSETI Express?

It’s been difficult working with engineering students from many different cultures but fun getting to know so many people and working in the labs at ESTEC. I’ve also found it very very time consuming; in all I reckon I have spent around 1700 hours on the programme.

However, it’s been a rewarding experience in more ways than one. For example I believe my work on the project may have had a positive influence on my university’s decision to award me a PhD stipend.

Has the project turned out to be what you expected?

It has been a lot more work and, I’m sorry to say, more complex than I thought, because of the spacecraft’s development being distributed throughout different countries.

Has it made any difference to your future plans?

It may have been that last ‘push’ that persuaded me that I wanted to work in the space business and become a satellite science/engineering researcher.

Best memory of the project?

Socially, probably the time spent with other students ‘after hours’ when working at ESTEC. Work-wise, I think the best time was the last Express workshop in November 2004 when we worked on the satellite in the clean room with the radio communication team testing subsystems.

Both the on-board computer and the Magic subsystem suffered fatal faults just a week or so apart and we had to re-solder the circuit boards. However, everything ended up working and by the end of the workshop it started to look like SSETI Express would actually become a real operating satellite.

Most difficult time?

Maybe the dark months after last summer when I spent all my time working at ESTEC and in the satellite lab in Aalborg to make the on-board computer work correctly. Or when I spent three whole days in a row at ESTEC in early 2005 working on communication system calibration, attitude control system calibration, power supply interfacing and lots of other things. The time frame was just ridiculous and problem followed problem. Or was it in August 2004 when my team arrived at ESTEC to integrate a flight computer that we still hadn’t built ..?

What has working on the project given you?

I have enhanced my practical skills in electronics assembly/integration and generally learnt many ‘small’ technical things in different engineering fields – especially in areas within electronics. This is a very large field in which most engineers specialise in a very specific area.

Have you ever thought it was not going to be possible?

Not really, though at times I thought some sub-systems would have to be redesigned, something that would have been very expensive and irritating. But, I always had faith in SSETI Express.

How will you feel when it is launched?

I will be very happy as I will never again be asked to travel 1000 km at a day’s notice to rebuild a dead satellite computer! Seriously, I will be proud to see the first launch of a spacecraft in which I have been so deeply involved. It is really kind of a child to me.

What do think you will remember of SSETI in 30-years time?

The never-ending work in the clean room, it is now 6 months since I sat there working from early morning to late at night for weeks at a time, but sometimes in the morning it still feels wrong not to take bus 95 to ESTEC. Of course, I think I will also remember the launch, that will really be something!

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