content 26-June-2019 04:31:07

Former Project Manager

John Ellwood

Nationality: British

Dr. Ellwood grew up in the coastal town of Dartmouth in SW England. After leaving school in 1965, he gained a scholarship from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to go to Cambridge University. On completing his degree in Mechanical Engineering, he spent another five years with UKAEA, working on military space systems and obtaining a PhD at London University in Structural Dynamics of Spacecraft.

In 1974, he moved to the European Space Technology Centre (ESTEC) in The Netherlands, where he worked as a structural engineer on an experimental communications satellite called the Orbital Test Satellite, and on the first payloads for the new Ariane rocket.

In the early 1980s, Ellwood became principal mechanical engineer for the European contributions to the ESA-NASA Hubble Space Telescope. His main responsibilities were the ESA Faint Object Camera - one of the most advanced of Hubble's initial instruments - and two giant solar panels which provided the observatory's electrical power. This was followed by periods as Phase A (initial study) manager for two major science missions - the SOHO solar observatory and the XMM X-ray satellite.

Ellwood's links with the Cluster project began in 1989 when he took over as payload and operations manager. Seven years later, he was in the protective bunker at the Kourou launch site when the new Ariane-5 booster exploded shortly after lift off.

"I watched it on the TV screen in the bunker," he said. "A cloud suddenly appeared, and then the monitors showed bits of debris raining down. It was all fairly horrific. We had to stay in the bunker for three hours after the explosion because of the danger of toxic fumes."

Ellwood and his colleagues were determined not to let all their hard work on Cluster be destroyed in the aftermath of the fireball. Although he had already been assigned as systems manager for another of ESA's major science projects, the Rosetta comet mission, Ellwood continued to work part-time towards Cluster's resurrection. To his delight, the mission was revived by the ESA member states in April 1997, and he came back on board as project manager.

"My basic fascination with Cluster is the fact that there are four spacecraft," he said. "It's a form of small-scale mass production. All four have the same instruments, which have to be integrated one after the other, so that they are all ready for launch at the same time. Then all four have to be operated simultaneously in orbit."

He finds the enthusiasm and determination shown by everyone to bring the mission back to life particularly gratifying.

"A lot of the old Cluster team have said they would like to work on at least some of it," he explained. "People who spent seven years of their lives on Cluster would like to see it come to fruition."

Although much of the work to revive Cluster is familiar, working with the Russians has introduced a completely new dimension for Ellwood and his colleagues. This has involved bi-monthly business trips to Moscow and visits to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"Working with the Russians is very interesting from a technical point of view," he commented. "You get an insight into working with people from a different culture who have such a fantastic history of space research behind them. You can learn a great deal, but it can also be frustrating having to communicate for much of the time through an interpreter."

Last Update: 18 January 2008

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