Certification of Flight Controllers for GGPEN; a Sustainable Model


The satellite flight controller/operator is a position at the Mission Control Center (MCC) that interacts directly with the satellite’s ground infrastructure during its operation in real-time. The controller is responsible for implementing the actions in the daily activity plan, monitor the performance of the satellite, detect anomalies in satellite and apply the correction or mitigation actions, according to the operational requirements.

This article explains the training standards for engineers to operate a communication satellite, structured along the instrumental document used by the Management Office of the National Space Program (GGPEN/Angola Space Agency) for certification of the satellite flight controllers for the Angosat-2 satellite. 

This work will also identify a field for the improvement of this model, based on the study of the model implemented by NASA at the Bowie Satellite Operations and Control Center (BSOCC) Located on the Bowie State University campus, where students have been trained and certified in flight operations in real-time since 1996.


The mission control centre, also referred to as Flight Control Center or Operations Center is the facility from which satellites are controlled, from the launch stage until the end of the mission. It is included in the ground segment of satellite operations. There is a team of satellite flight controllers and other support staff to control all aspects of the mission through the received telemetry, from which they send commands to the satellite using the ground station.

The formation, training and certification of the team of flight controllers and specialists for the MCC in Luanda (located in the commune of Funda) is one of the main challenges of GGPEN, and this article intends to present the profile required for this function, the academic qualifications and personal skills needed for those who want to be a satellite flight controller/operator.

The main basis for the preparation of this study are of internal nature; they result from the research of the requirements defined in the contract for the operator’s profile and the certification plan to be implemented, as well as the observation of the reports of the training that were given by the constructors of the Angosat-1 and Angosat-2 satellites (RSC ENERGIA, ISS RESHETNEV and AIRBUS DS), in the certification process for satellite flight controllers/operators.

Also, some supporting literature was accessed on internet sites, with particular emphasis on the “BEST PRACTICES WORKING GROUP AIAA SPACE OPERATIONS AND SUPPORT TECHNICAL COMMITTEE manual (April 18, 2003)” available for free, with a specific chapter on training and certification of satellite flight controllers/operators. 


The ANGOSAT project is the result of researches by the Interministerial Commission for the General Coordination of the Telecommunications Satellite Project for Multisectoral Support (CISAT), created by Presidential Order No. 21/06 of 21 June, on the feasibility of construction, launch and operation of an Angolan satellite. The study included the Russian consortium led by RKK Energia, which is the main contractor for the project.

The training and certification model in this work results from the partnership between GGPEN and the Angosat2 satellite constructors (RKK ENERGIA, AIRBUS DS, ISS RESHETNEV).

  1. Main Criteria for Recruitment/ Selection for Senior Technician
    A)Field of Study

1)Production of rockets and aircraft 2)Aviation and rocket technology 3)Radio communication engineering 4)Electrotechnics and Microelectronics 5)Applied Mathematics 6)Computer Science 7)Aeronautical Engineering (8)Guidance and Navigation System (9)Systems technology and information (10)Automation and Control (11)Mechatronics (12)Industry and electrical systems (13)Mechanics (14)Telecommunications (15)Geography (16) Physics (17)Astrophysics (18)Aerospace Engineering.       

  1. Qualifications/Requirements
  • Doctor/Master’s/Graduate Degree
  • Angolan nationality
  • Proficiency in English and Russian(additional factor)
  • Individual qualities such as:
    • Discipline and responsibility, learning ability, adaptability, stress tolerance, high level of concentration, ability to work in a team, willingness to work outside the country.
    • Have knowledge of other tools such as CAD (AutoCAD, Solid Works).                       
  1. Training and Certification Model

NASA expert David Fuller, with over forty years experience describes the contributions of a controller with fundamental training and certification, using standard models as follows:

  • Teach the team of satellite flight controllers to operate satellite systems and ground communication infrastructure;
  • Shape the team’s habits, behaviors and performance of procedures.

In view of the focus of this article on the analysis of the model currently implemented by GGPEN, the different stages of training and certification plan will be listed and detailed. The qualitative assessment was based on feedback from the trainees, as the main strengths and weaknesses of the current model will be listed.

  • Phase 1. – Before Launch
    • Theoretical Training

Understanding Space (course given by Teaching Sciency and Technology, inc.);

– Detailed satellite architecture;

– Construction and operation of the satellite;

– Operation software;

– Documentation review in the construction phases of the satellite (e.g.: Preliminary Design Review, Critical Design Review, etc.)

  • Phase 2. – Before Launch
    • Practical Training

– Simulation of scenarios;

– Software operation acceptance tests;

– Participation in the assembly of ground segment equipment (e.g C-band and KU-band antennas, signal amplifiers, etc.);

– Participation in the satellite ground tests.

  • Phase 3 . – After Launch
    • Continuous formation

– Satellite tests in orbit;

– Simulation of scenarios;

– Overcoming training.

The qualitative assessment of the training and certification model implementation that allowed assessing the following:

  • Strengths:
    • Training with the satellite’s construction specialist, including on the job training environment ;
    • A training period of approximately 3 years;
    • Training under the same conditions and tools that will be used for operation.
  • Weakness:
    • Intermittent training periods;
    • There is no technical documentation in Portuguese.


Based on the information presented above, it is possible to understand that the training and certification schedule, implemented by GGPEN, coincides with the satellite construction, test and launch schedule. This factor allowed trainees to participate actively in the project review phases, thus enhancing the knowledge acquired in theoretical training on satellite design. The positive evaluation of the model defined and implemented by GGPEN is strongly influenced by this factor. However, the sustainability of this process raises the main question of study in this article. How will GGPEN handle the replacement of satellite flight controllers/operators over the 15 years of satellite operation?

The sustainability of this process will necessarily involve the creation of a recruitment system within the country, capable of satisfying the necessary requirements for the function and familiarised with MCC. A training and certification model, whose recruitment base is centred on Angola’s best technical Universities will guarantee greater sustainability.

The reference for this approach comes from the study of the model for training and certification of satellite flight controllers/operators implemented by NASA at the Bowie Satellite Operations and Control Center (BSOCC) Located on the Bowie State University campus, where this model has been implemented since 1996.

This concept requires that Universities provide students, while NASA provides MCC and full-time satellite flight control professionals. The training includes classroom sessions, practical training and independent study. After fulfilling a long list of requirements, trainees undergo a written test for each certification and have the opportunity to participate, at certain times, in the operation of the satellite in real-time.

It is possible that, in practice, the implementation of this model will require several adaptations and will certainly bring to light the need to create study documentation in Portuguese for better dissemination among students.


The model currently implemented by GGPEN appears to be the best option taking into account that it allows the acquisition of solid knowledge. However, the transition to a model that is sustainable, within the reality of the country, is the next challenge. More precisely, the creation of a model centred on the leading Universities in the country. Moving to this model will help GGPEN achieve a system that sustains itself and will equally sustain the agency.

Author’s Bio:

Elcano dos Santos Gaspar has a Degree in Military and Aeronautical Technologies from the Portuguese Air Force Academy / Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Superior Engineering Institute of Lisbon. Satellite Subsystem Analysis Specialist at the Satellite Mission Control Center.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.