Excerpts from the 2021 SpaceOps Event

SpaceOps 2021 Conference.

The 16th biennial SpaceOps conference has come to a great end. It was the first time Africa would host the meeting. Hosted by South Africa’s SANSA, SpaceOps lasted from May 3-5, 2021. A programme focused on students, and young professionals followed it on May 6 2021. 

The first plenary included presentations from Phillip Baldwin from NASA, Sabrina Eberle of
DLR, Jose Morales of ESA, Claude Audouy of CNES and Kevin Marston of Eumetsat. 
The discussions of the first plenary centred around the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic within the space operations and space industry.

During the Technical sessions and Industry presentations, Rachel Dunwoody presented a topic on “Development and Validation of the Operations Procedures and Manual for a 2U CubeSat EIRSAT-1, with Three Novel Payloads.” Pauline Delande presented his paper on “Multivariate anomaly detection in discrete and continuous telemetry signals using a sparse decomposition into a dictionary”. Victoria De Poian delivered a topic on “Science Autonomy on the ExoMars Mission: a Step Forward to Onboard Autonomy for Space Exploration”.  Kimberly J. Ord presented a topic on “Parker Solar Park Probe Pre-Launch Missions Operations Orbit-in-the-life Mission Simulation. Mr Marcus Wallum delivered his topic on Secure Communications Testbed for Space Missions.

The second day’s first plenary topic was “Ground stations: New Space and Traditional Space”. The plenary engaged both public and private space operators to highlight their changes in the operating paradigm. It also included the challenges and opportunities in the ground stations domain. Some of the paradigms highlighted included: deployment of new mega-constellations for telecommunications and earth observation, developing and maintaining new ground stations across Africa, private human spaceflight, new countries entering the space operations domain, and a proliferation of private space initiatives. 

The Plenary included presentations from Arnulf Kjeldsen of KSAT, Ian Jones of Goonhilly, Shayn Hawthorne of Amazon Web Services, Jean-Marc Soula of CMES, and Klaus-Juergen Schulz of ESA. 

During the Technical sessions and Industry presentations, Fergal Marshall presented a paper on the Development of the Ground Segment Communication System for the EIRSAT-1 CubeSat.

The third Plenary topic, the second of day 2, revolved around human spaceflight operations: Space Stations, the Moon and Mars. It included lectures from Sami Asmar of CCSDS, Courtenay McMillian and Dina Contella of NASA, and Petra Mittler of DLR. These topics focused on the Artemis accords, and the operational requirements for human spaceflight programmes, especially to Mars. Speakers also discussed The Ambition LUNA and the first phase of the Artemis mission. The Ambition LUNA is the Complete simulation of an Artemis mission inside LUNA and, in the long run: All astronauts flying to the Moon surface (2-4 astronauts per year) in LUNA. 

The session also included a presentation on Robotics Instrument Deployment System Surface Operations for the insight Mars Land, delivered by the Seis -Insight project manager, Mr Charles Yana. He mentioned how the excellent synergy and collaboration between CNES and JPL development teams are key to operations’ success, with the joint venture relying on people’s participation in both development and operational phases.

The third day’s and 4th Plenary topic was “Space situational awareness: Protecting our assets in space”. Juha-Pekka Luntama, the plenary,  approached the topic from two angles; Space Weather and Orbital management. The plenary engaged mechanisms adopted by spacecraft designers to protect the craft from the harsh environment of space. Head of the Space Weather Office in ESA’s Space Safety Programme opened the session with a lecture on “Space Weather System – Protecting our assets in space”. He discussed how space weather impacted infrastructure; astronaut radiation increased radiation doses in aviation and increased atmospheric drag. Other presenters included Clive Charlton of AWS and David B. Goldstein of NASA.

L. Francillout delivered a session on “Orbital Management: Surveillance and Regulation. According to him, the European Space Surveillance and Tracking ((EUSST) have registered 211 satellites to avoid collisions. These include 47 Low Earth Orbit (LEO satellites, 48 Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites, and 118 Geostationary (GEO) satellites. He also expatiated the concept of Space Situational Awareness. He described it as keeping track of objects and predicting where they would be at any given time. He also Discussed Space Sustainability. 

The conference also featured a technical programme which covered an impressive number of presentations on the following topics:

  • Mission Design and Management (MDM) 
  • Operations Concepts (OC) 
  • Flight Execution (FE) 
  • Ground Systems Engineering (GSE) 
  • Data Management (DM) 
  • Planning and Scheduling (PS) 
  • Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC)  
  • Communications Architectures and Networks (CAN) 
  • Human Spaceflights and Operations (HSO) 
  • Cross Support, Interoperability, and Standards (CSIS) 
  • Human Factors, Training and Knowledge Transfer (HFT) 
  • Space Transportation Operations (STO) 
  • Artificial Intelligence for operations (AI) 
  • Cyber Security for Space Operations (CYB) 
  • Safety and Sustainability of Space Operations (SSU) 
  • Beyond Borders in Human Endeavour (BBO)

The SGAC and SANSA held a Student and Young Professionals Programme (SYP) on the last day of the conference. It included speed mentoring sessions from Harry Shaw, Viqar Abbasi, Jessie Ndaba, Francois Visser, Dr Lourens Visagie. The programme also included a space quiz. Questions ranged from the iridium collision to the mission and purpose of SpaceOps, to the number of countries with satellites in space as of 2020. 

An awards ceremony came at the end of the programme, presented by Greg Marlow. The following persons received the following awards/medals.

Pierre Lods won The International SpaceOps Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) in appreciation for his involvement in the SpaceOps Organization for more than ten years, particularly for his leadership in the organisation SpaceOps 2018 as Conference Chairman.

Dr Natan Eismont won the international SpaceOps Exceptional Achievement Medal (EAM) to develop and implement a safer and more efficient technology of spacecraft launch.  It is now the standard procedure of launching in Russia.

MAVEN Mission Operations Team and the Dawn Flight Team bagged the International SpaceOps Award for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) for using a spacecraft that had never been designed for a prolonged aerobraking campaign and planned and executed a flawless transition while still preserving the spacecraft’s science capabilities and in recognition of their exceptional anomaly, recovery and saving of a space mission, respectively. 

The NASA/JPL Dawn mission conducted spectacularly successful explorations of dwarf planet Ceres and the giant asteroid Vesta, the two most prominent residents of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Mr Phil Liebrecht received the International SpaceOps Lifetime Achievement Medal (LAM) for his over forty years of dedication to advocacy for international cooperation in space operations. During this period, he directly enabled human exploration and science missions to ensure the transfer of critical information across the Solar System and interstellar space. 


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