Tinkerer’s lab

As Europe’s centre of excellence for spacecraft operations, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre is home to the engineering teams that control satellites in orbit, manage the ground station network, and design and build the systems on Earth that support missions in space.

Each mission is supported by a ‘ground segment’ – a complex mix of hardware, software and networks that enable engineers to fly a mission. This enables teams to stay in contact with the satellite, monitoring its status and health and sending commands and receiving data from its instruments.

Developing and validating ground segments and ensuring they function bug-free requires an equally sophisticated testing capability.

Engineers use the Ground Segment Reference Facility (GSRF) to experiment and tinker with systems under development, testing new or upgraded software or hardware to ensure these work together as expected, discovering and solving problems before they can affect live missions.

In recent years, ESOC’s GSRF has conducted test campaigns for missions such as Rosetta, Gaia, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter, with more planned.

“The GSRF facilities and expert teams are capable of validating almost all functions needed to fly new missions, without disrupting ongoing missions,” says Jean-Christophe Berton.

“Perhaps most valuably, it also identifies possible problems at an early stage and enables these to be solved before a full ground segment system is switched on for a live spacecraft.

“This capability is one of the hidden gems of the expertise we’ve developed at here in Darmstadt, and is one reason why ESOC is one of Europe’s leading centres of excellence for mission control.”

Click on the image ribbon above to access a series of photos and accompanying captions highlighting what goes on in the GSRF. 

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