Step inside the Main Control Room at ESOC, ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, and one thing becomes immediately clear: teams that operate space missions are highly hierarchical, and the Flight Director is indisputably in charge.
How does this work, and why is this the case? In the last of his Masterclass series, Paolo Ferri delves into the culture of operations, from written rules and procedures to equally important unwritten principles that guide the day-to-day working lives of those flying Europe’s spacecraft.
Paolo explains that on rare occasions, an internal battle takes place when protocols, procedures and flight rules don’t seem up to the task, and someone must assume the huge responsibility of deciding whether or not they need to be violated to keep a mission functioning.
With 36 years’ of experience at ESA, Paolo Ferri is responsible for mission operations, and he has played a leading role in ensuring the success of missions like Eureca, ESA’s first-ever reusable satellite; Cluster, one of the longest-flying science missions; Venus Express, Europe’s first exploration of Earth’s ‘evil twin’; and Rosetta, humanity’s first landing on a comet.
In five episodes of ‘Leadership at Mission Control’, Paolo takes us through major events in his career at ESA, covering cornerstone missions, first attempts, overcoming technical challenges, building diverse teams, working under pressure and solving the unexpected problems that are part of any space endeavour.