Previous work


One of the coolest projects I ever took part in happened while I was still an aerospace student at the Delft University of Technology. After the first Ariane 5 launch had failed, crashing 4 expensive Cluster spacecraft, ESA planned to launch a lump of concrete on the second flight. Some people at ESTEC, ESA’s technology centre, had the luminous idea to turn the lump of concrete into a real spacecraft using spare transponders, antennas, batteries and whatever other parts could be found. TEAMSAT was born. Different experiments that people had lying around were included. One of these was a tether experiment that would eject a second spacecraft, YES, from the ‘mothership’ consisting of TEAMSAT mated to the concrete lump called MAQSAT.

The project schedule was completely crazy when compared to science missions that take decades to design, build and fly: We went from concept to launch in under a year! It was also a fantastic experience. As a student recruit in a small team, I took part in almost all aspects of the mission: I built and tested sunsensors, took part in the assembly and vibration tests and debugged flight computers. I travelled to the launch site (Kourou) to help with the final testing and mating of the spacecraft with the Ariane 5 launcher. In Korou I also participated in several launch dress rehearsals and witnessed an Ariane 4 launch. During the actual mission, I served as ‘Experiment Operations Coordinator’.

Unfortunately, we were in the end forbidden to deploy the tether. YES was still ejected successfully. The image (right) shows MAQSAT imaged from TEAMSAT directly after separation.

The incredible full story of TEAMSAT can be found in this article in the ESA Bulletin. An online resource summarising the mission can be found here.

ROSMEX Simulators

After obtaining my MSc from Delft University I spent  year and a half as a Young Graduate Trainee at ESOC, The European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Here I worked on the operational simulators for the Rosetta and Mars Express science missions. These simulators are used for training the operations team in preparation for the mission and also for testing recovery procedures in case of a contingency during the mission. This article in the ESA bulletin nicely describes how these simulators are developed and used.

The simulators are a very detailed and realistic representation of the actual spacecraft characteristics and behaviour. Spacecraft Operators should not be able to tell if they are commanding the simulator or the real thing. For example, the simulators usually include a software emulation of the on-board computer(s) running the real flight software.

My particular area of responsibility was the orbit model used to simulate the position, speed and illumination/thermal environment at any point during the mission. Before ROSMEX, ESA missions had only flown in low Earth orbit. For my master’s thesis project, I had modified this model to include orbits around the Moon. At ESOC, I took this one step further and added interplanetary trajectories and orbits around any solar system planet. If you are interested, two technical papers provide more information on the ROSMEX simulators. Download them here and here.

Image above: Mars Express in its science orbit around Mars. The mission is still ongoing, get the latest news here.

Rosetta mission still has perform its main mission: Rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Follow Rosetta’s progress here.

Simulation projects at TERMA

While at TERMA, I worked on a number of Spacecraft simulation projects. For SMART-1, ESA’s first mission to the moon, I helped develop a mission planning simulator that was based on a fairly high-level simulation used during the design phases of the project. Another exiting project at TERMA was the very complex operational simulator for the European ATV cargo shuttle for the international space station. I developed several models for this simulator, including the thermal environment / control system model. This paper describes how this simulator is used for training ATV operators and ISS astronauts.

Other projects I was involved in were a 3D visualisation & collision avoidance simulation for spacecraft ground handling and a ground segment simulator for the Galileo satnav system.