More than 80 companies from ESA Member States met recently to begin discussing new models of collaboration to reinforce European space industry’s presence in the world market.

A first-ever event hosted at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, on 25–26 June brought Agency experts together with space industry to discuss the path for future collaboration in mission operations and ground systems engineering.

ESOC is home to the mission control teams that operate spacecraft and develop and manage the ‘ground segment’ – the computer systems, networks and tracking stations that support satellites in space.

At ESOC, some 800 ESA staff work with contracted specialist engineers sourced from space industry to design, build, operate and manage the ground segments for ESA missions.

Teams then monitor and command spacecraft in all types of missions, from those orbiting Earth like the Sentinels, CryoSat and Swarm, to those voyaging deep in our Solar System, like Rosetta and Mars Express. This happens in control rooms using a sophisticated and standardised array of software: mission control systems, mission planning systems, satellite simulators, flight dynamics systems and much more. 


In addition, engineers working in specialist areas such as optical and radio-frequency communications, ground station design and development, and control system tools and applications support the preparation and execution of mission operations.

ESOC also provides a growing range of expert services to customers across ESA and at other organisations in domains as diverse as mission operations and in-orbit satellite commissioning, software engineering, orbital mechanics, satellite navigation and space debris.


“With the Industry Days, we wanted to explore new and expanded schemes for collaboration between ESOC and industry in the areas of ground segment technologies and spacecraft operations,” says Juan Miro, Head of the Ground Systems Engineering department.

“This means exchanging concepts, plans and strategies for possible products and services that could be of mutual benefit.

“And we would like to investigate how ESOC can increase cooperation and support to European industry in their provision of operations-related services to customers external to ESA.

“We wish to boost the capabilities and efficiencies of ESOC while providing a competitive edge for European industry in the global spaceflight market.”


The initiative comes at a crucial time for ESA’s mission operations. After last week’s Sentinel-2A launch, ESOC has four more launch campaigns planned in 2015. These each include a critical multiday ‘launch and early orbit phase’ (LEOP), when teams work intensively around the clock to ensure the safety and health of the new satellite in the harsh environment of space.

ESOC presently operates 15 spacecraft with more than a dozen missions in development, highlighting the significantly increasing pace of spaceflight activity at the Agency.

Future collaboration will build on current ESA efforts, which include: supporting European industry in commercialising ESA-developed ground segment software and products; collaborative development for the next-generation European Ground System – Common Core mission control software; promoting the transfer of ESA ground segment and operations technology for use in non-space sectors; helping start-up companies create and commercialise new downstream applications using technology and data stemming from space programmes, like Global Navigation Satellite Systems.


“Multi-mission infrastructure is one of the keys to the success of ESOC,” says Juan. “We are mandated not only to operate missions in space, but also to maximise benefits to ESA Member States and their space industries.

“There are world-class capabilities and expertise at ESOC that can be used to increase opportunities for European industry.

“Collaboration will not only reduce the cost of developing ground-segment products for ESA but also strengthen European industry’s position, in particular in new space markets.”