- Introducing the TPM Ground Seg...
Introducing the TPM Ground Segment Operational Team
06 Mar 2023
Third Party Missions (TPMs) are Earth Observation (EO) missions that are not owned or operated by ESA. The agency has an agreement with these third parties to distribute data products from their missions to scientific users, or for services in pre-operational phases.
ESA’s TPM arrangement has been operating for over 45 years, providing EO data to users in Europe and worldwide for research and pre-operational applications development, and include over 60 instruments on more than 50 missions.
Besides the challenging task of building and launching a satellite, the success of an Earth observation mission relies on being able to operate the satellite from the ground and ensure that the data gathered are of good quality and made readily available to users.
To achieve this, a flight control centre sending commands to the satellite is needed, together with at least one ground station to receive the data, as they are 'downlinked' from the satellites when they pass overhead. Facilities for data processing, storage and distribution are also necessary.
Last but not least, the quality of the data and the performance on the satellite sensors have to be monitored continuously. If needed, actions such as 'calibration activities' have to be carried out promptly, guaranteeing the overall performance of the mission.
These functions for ESA’s Third Party Missions are all ensured by the Operational Team of the Ground Segment.
Meet Roberto Biasutti
Born in Switzerland in 1963, Roberto holds a University degree in Aeronautical Engineering with a specialisation in avionics and radar techniques, from the University of Rome, La Sapienza.
He arrived in ESRIN as a contractor in 1992, with Eurimage, a company responsible for the promotion and commercialisation of the satellite data produced by the Agency, including the new-born ERS-1 and EOSat’s Landsat 5 (then operated by USGS).
In particular, the promotion of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data was of primary importance, as ERS-1 was one of the first operational satellites with such a sensor and at the time, the community were not used to radar data.
In addition, Roberto developed DESCW, a software catalogue that when installed on user’s PCs, allowed them to browse and order ERS, Landsat and JERS satellite data.
In 2001, he joined ESA Staff in the User Services section in ESA’s Ground Segment division, becoming fully involved in the preparation of data distribution of Envisat, launched the year after.
In 2014, due to an internal reorganisation, he undertook the position of Ground Segment TPM Operational Manager.
During his work in ESA’s Ground Segment and Data Management division at ESRIN, Roberto’s main job was, and still is, to allow users to access TPM data by setting up contracts with the data distributors and ensuring a proper on-line publication of the data, thus enabling easier access.
From 2007, he is fully involved as a member of the Executive Secretariat in the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, including the responsibility of the provision of the operational system infrastructure, for managing activations.
ESA: How did you studies shape your job choices?
Roberto: Thanks to my knowledge in radar techniques, I was suitable to help ESA in the promotion of radar data coming from the ERS-1 satellite (both SAR and Low Bit Rate – radar altimeter, wind scatterometer, etc.).
ESA: What does your role as ESA’s Ground Segment TPM Operational Manager entail?
Roberto: This role entails the procurement and provision of data to users, coming from non-ESA missions. There is a large variety of satellites and data, ranging from very high-resolution optical sensors, to radar and atmospheric sensors, which require different approaches.
ESA’s involvement can vary greatly: sometimes we just buy data from the satellite/data provider, in order to supply these data to our Category-1 users. In other cases we are involved in the full process, from the satellite’s data acquisition, to processing and dissemination to the users.
Another activity is the data consolidation and improvement: during a mission’s lifetime (and also after the end of its operation), new algorithms become available and so there is the need to reprocess the data to new quality standards. Reprocessing data, sometimes covering 40 years, can be quite challenging.
ESA: What are the challenges and successes of managing such a vast programme?
Roberto: There are many Third Party Missions, alive or historical ones, to manage. This implies lots of interactions with many providers, adapting ESA’s infrastructure to handle the data, trying to allow users to access them in the easiest way, which is not simple. Data volumes are huge—consider we host more than 1 PByte of TPM data…
ESA: Any last thoughts on your overall experience?
Roberto: Challenging, but for sure never boring! New missions are constantly coming in and it is always interesting to look towards new data.
Meet Andrea Schedid
Andrea Schedid, from RHEA group, is the Third Party Missions Operation Coordinator.
Born and bred in Rome, in 1975, Andrea holds a Master’s degree in Electronic Engineering from the University of La Sapienza, in Rome.
He started working in ESA in 2006, providing engineering and Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) support, first on Envisat’s mission planning applications, and then on user services and Payload Data Ground Segment (PDGS) applications.
In 2015, he was appointed as Ground Segment and System Engineer for the coordination and evolution of the Payload Data Ground Segment components.
Since 2018, he is the TPM Operation Coordinator. His role comprises technical support to ESA’s Ground Segment TPM Operational Manager and includes the in-depth coordination with third party data providers and ESA internal teams, in order to guarantee the proper continuity of TPM data provision to users and the evolution of the TPM services.
ESA: How did your studies shape your job choices?
Andrea: I studied electronic engineering, but I was always fascinated by space and, indeed, I oriented the course of studies towards signal transmission and antenna design. The knowledge and skills acquired during university, in addition to a schematic and pragmatic natural behaviour, instilled in me the way of thinking and provided me with the foundations for an engineering approach to manage tasks and activities.
The natural outcome of my education and mindset was the provision of engineering support in the space industry and, thanks to RHEA Group, I had the privilege of offering my contribution to ESA.
ESA: What does your role as Third Party Missions Operation Coordinator entail?
Andrea: As TPM Operation Coordinator, I work side by side with ESA’s Ground Segment TPM Operational Manager to provide the users community with access to the TPM data, to guarantee the operativity of the full TPM PDGS chains and to support the management and evolution of the service.
This implies a continuous interaction with Roberto, to catch his inputs, guidelines and approach, and to transfer these needs and requirements to all operations. In addition to Roberto, I also cooperate with several different stakeholders: the data providers - since each single company or agency has its own product types, data flows, interfaces and procedures, I need to ask various questions, such as: Which products are provided? How are the data offered to the users?, etc., and the users - to understand how the market is evolving and changing during the years, and to evaluate the project proposals to grant user access to on-demand products; ESA’s internal team to provide the input for the configuration of the dissemination systems, to cooperate for the resolution of issues, to respond to users enquiries received through ESA’s Help Desk, to prepare the content of web pages, to ensure the data long term archival and preservation and to lead projects for the evolution of the services.
ESA: What are the challenges and successes involved in your job tasks?
Andrea: Considering that we are offering data from more than 60 missions and we have almost 100 collections, you can easily understand the challenges of my roles: different product types, different ways to provide the data, different interfaces, different approaches and different ways of working.
Keeping all the activities under control is not easy, due to the high number of tasks to be carried out in parallel, but also because the coordination exercise involves several different teams.
Very often the real job is done by third party experts and I just have to review, remind and stress other people, in order to guarantee the expected timelines are met and the original operational needs are properly transferred in operations.
At the same time, this is also really stimulating and very rewarding, especially when we finalise the publication of a new collection, or the usage of TPM data generate interesting results.
ESA: What do you most enjoy about this role?
Andrea: I love my role, it can be quite stressful at times, but equally exciting and stimulating since it gives me the opportunity to interact with different people, using various approaches for the work.
From my point of view, the interpersonal relationship plays a key part in my job - more than the technical aspects, that are obviously requested for my activity (others will judge my capacity). What I most like is the relationships I can establish with colleagues and peers.
I’m very happy to work with Roberto because, although we completely respect our different roles, after five years of working together we have established a great collaboration and cooperation, which allow us to work as a perfectly synchronised team.
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