Every man to his console please!
14 March 1999The first validation tests of the XMM ground segment have started today, 15 March, bringing together the teams at the ESTEC Technical Centre in the Netherlands where ESA's X-ray space observatory is being assembled, and the XMM mission operations staff in Germany. Everyone will be checking the ground system's ability to "speak to and listen to" the spacecraft as if it were already in orbit. XMM is due for launch in January next year.
Everyone applauds in Kourou when a satellite is released into space. There are congratulations all round : yet another successful Ariane flight ! But in a few seconds, the tension passes from the Arianespace launch teams to those who will be nurturing the spacecraft throughout its life in orbit.
Howard Nye is the Ground Segment Manager for the XMM mission. "Ariane is like the midwife. The minute the spacecraft is released, the baby will be ours and we will stay with it day and night until the end of its life".
Based at ESA's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, his team of specialists have a dual role : fulfilling the observation requests from the scientists and conducting all mission operations, constantly monitoring XMM's health and safety and controlling its every movement during its potential ten-year life in orbit.
"Telemetry allows us to see everything that's happening on board: voltages, pressures, temperatures, changes in orientation it's an eerie but extraordinary feeling seeing the satellite response to our instructions on our consoles as if she was right next to us".
The XMM ground segment covers the Mission Operations Centre in Darmstadt, the Earth stations in Kourou and Perth Australia, which will be the "speaking tubes" to XMM communicating with the satellite, and the Science Operations Centre (SOC) at Villafranca Spain.
"The scientists will constantly know from the attitude data that we provide exactly where the satellite is pointing as it travels on its orbit around Earth. If there suddenly is an intriguing cosmic phenomenon, then we need to able to replan and point XMM towards it within four hours" says Howard Nye.
For Robert Laini, XMM Project Manager at ESA, these ground system tests constitute an important milestone : " XMM hardware development started on 27 March 1996 and we are connecting the spacecraft to it's ground segment just under 3 years later, this is a high achievement. It demonstrates the commitment and ability of all XMM partners, the industrial team, ESA team and the scientific teams involved in the development of the instruments and scientific data processing. The launch campaign is in sight and the motivation is very high."
Software development for the XMM ground segment began in late 1997. The present validation tests, the first of a series of three scheduled this year before the spacecraft leaves for Kourou in October, are due to last approximately one week.