Leicester Student Wins Place on ESA's "Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations"

Posted by George Holyoak at Oct 01, 2019 03:50 PM |
Leicester Physics Undergraduate George Holyoak writes about the Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations, held at the ESEC-Galaxia training facility in Belgium.
Leicester Student Wins Place on ESA's "Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations"

George Holyoak (fourth from left) and the winning students.

In early September I had the privilege of attending the Ladybird Guide to Spacecraft Operations Training Course, held by ESA at their ESEC-Galaxia training facility in Belgium. This trip was made possible by the support of Dr Fletcher in preparing my application and a €200 travel grant from ESA.

As the name suggests, the course focused on teaching the principles of spacecraft operations. This was largely done through case studies delivered by the pre-eminently impressive instructor David Evans, who – on top of speaking for eight hours a day without notes – had a personal connection to many of the examples. We were given an afternoon off for a trip to the ESEC-Redu ground station, where the tour took us inside the control centre and one of the enormous antennae, but without a doubt the highlight of the entire trip was the team simulation.

Split into teams, we were tasked with designing a mission to Pluto using everything we had learned. David then took our designs and gave us a scenario in which telemetry was lost at a critical moment, based on real space missions. Our job was to work together in a simulated operations exercise to diagnose the problem and get telemetry back. Even though the setting was a lecture theatre with nine other students, and nothing was at stake, the simulation is one of the most exciting, most stressful, and most entertaining things I have ever done.

The course was an incredible experience from start to finish – we learned about the basics of spacecraft design from scratch, explored logical fallacies, and discovered what it takes to operate a satellite worth millions in an environment where anything can happen (and you might be blamed if it does). I learned that ‘I’m Alaskan’ and ‘I’m from Leicester’ apparently sound similar in my accent and spent three days bemusedly fielding questions about wolves. I personally feel fortunate to have met thirty like-minded and rather brilliant students from across Europe – not only was this a great opportunity to connect with potential future colleagues, but also for cultural exchange. For example: I was frequently reminded that my method of making coffee would be considered a punishable offence in Italy and that there are people on this Earth who enjoy the taste of sparkling water.

As ground-breaking as these revelations are, they aren’t the most important ways in which my horizons were broadened. Although the course was intense and packed a huge amount of information into a few short days, I think its true value lies in how it presents a section of the space industry few people would ever consider in a way that is engaging and accessible even to someone with no engineering experience. I went to Belgium with a vague sense of curiosity inspired by my third-year project, and left feeling like I had been exposed to a whole new world of possibilities for applying my degree.

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