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  • Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 25 July 2022 Referencing Hub media

    Chris Jackson is an engineer at the University of Auckland’s Te Pūnaha Ātea – Space Institute. Chris is part of the Mission Operations Control Centre team. Watch as he tells us about the team’s responsibilities for the MethaneSAT programme.

    Jargon alert:

    • Telemetry: satellite data that is collected by ground stations.
    • Asset: something that is valuable to own or have.

    Questions for discussion:

    • What jobs will the Mission Control team perform?
    • Why does the team need to be concerned about the temperatures inside and outside of the satellite? How do you think they can control the temperatures?
    • How do you think that the team communicates with the satellite?
    • MethaneSAT is the first international mission for Te Pūnaha Ātea – Space Institute. What type of mission would you choose for its second operation?


    Chris Jackson

    Head of Space Operations and Ground Segment, Te Pūnaha Ātea – Space Institute, University of Auckland

    The Mission Operations Centre for MethaneSAT is part of the ground segment alongside a number of antennas around the globe that will actually be responsible for uploading and downloading data. We have processing software that sits out in the cloud that allows us to send commands to the spacecraft, schedule up all the payload operations and look at all of our telemetry coming down.

    The Mission Operations Centre is responsible for looking after the health and safety and routine operations for the spacecraft. It’s an expensive asset and it needs to operate for a long period of time, so we need to make sure that, if there’s any problems, that we can recover from them and keep it running.

    Alongside that, obviously the spacecraft is put up there for a purpose – to monitor methane – and so we will be responsible for taking the inputs from the scientists and scheduling up the imagery and making sure that imagery comes down. And we will make sure that those targets are being implemented in a way that keeps the spacecraft safe – that we’re not using too much power or overfilling the data memory on board the spacecraft – all these sort of constraints to make sure the satellite is actually operating correctly and also trying to meet the needs of the science team.

    We’ll also download a lot of engineering data. And this is the temperatures – both inside and outside the spacecraft – the voltages, the batteries and solar arrays and things like this. We have the people that look at what’s happening and decide what we need to do with the spacecraft.

    The Mission Operations Centre is being implemented here at the Auckland University. And the idea here is to make it a national asset that we can use for future New Zealand national missions and to build up the expertise and train up students to bring through that next generation of spacecraft engineers and scientists.

    Chris Jackson, Te Pūnaha Ātea – Space Institute, University of Auckland
    Near Earth Network Ground Stations in Chile and Norway, NASA
    Awarua Ground Station and students working on CubeSats at University of Auckland, MBIE
    Animation of MethaneSAT satellite passing over Earth and field of view, courtesy of MethaneSAT and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
    Te Pūnaha Ātea – Space Institute, University of Auckland

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