Kim Nergaard (left) stands with Paolo Ferri head of the Operations Division for ESA (right) watching the Meteron experiment yesterday. Credit: ESA/L.Wellard

The future exploration of unknown worlds and dangerous areas took a giant leap forward yesterday when the Multi-purpose, End to End Robotic Operations Network was successfully validated in an experiment involving ESA, BUSOC and the International Space Station.


“The Meteron team expected that  the experiment would be successful. We prepared well in advance and planned for any contingency.  Still, we are extremely happy that we did not need to use our contingency plans for the experiment with Alex yesterday.” admits Kim Nergaard, Head of the Advanced Mission Concepts division, for the Mission Operations department at ESOC.



Paul Steele in action yesterday during the Meteron experiment. Credit: ESA/L.Wellard

Paul Steele, SOM for the Meteron experiment,  was particularly pleased with the outcome saying “We were happy to demonstrate a fully successful set of collaborative, distributed rover operations. We especially appreciated the speed at which the astronaut performed operations using the Meteron network.”


The Meteron Operations Environment or MOE—the computer program that monitors the connection between the Eurobot rover and the astronaut—performed without any issues during the day. For a relatively new piece of software in its first operational use, this is quite the achievement.


The Eurobot rover performed particularly well, and they were able to power it up 30 minutes earlier than expected. The most important consideration is generally battery life in such situations, but Eurobot gave no reason to be concerned about this at all.



Mario Merri and Paolo Ferri discuss the experiment and look over the documents outlining the steps of the experiment. Credit ESA/L.Wellard

Mario Merri, the head of the Mission Data Systems Division at ESOC and acting Head of the Ground Systems Engineering Department said “It is a great operational demonstration of new CCSDS standards, in particular the DTN and the Mission Operation Services.”


Mehran Sakarati pauses from monitoring the MOE (pictured in the background on the screen) for a quick shot, during the experiment yesterday. Credit: ESA/L.Wellard

The mood in the room at the end of the night was celebratory at Darmstadt, with good reason. “Meteron Operations Environment performed really well, without any issue throughout the whole day across ESOC, ESTEC and BUSOC. This is the first time CCSDS Mission operation services have been used operationally over a space-to-ground Link” explained Mehran Sarkarati the Data Systems Manager for the Opscomm team.


Overall the team were particularly pleased with the role Alex Gerst played in the experiment. Not only was he able to execute all the required commands quickly and efficiently, he completed them in record time—allowing for an extra manoeuvre.



The team at ESOC at the end of the experiment. The screen at the back shows that the rover has returned to its original position and the network has successfully operated for 1hr 49min. Credit: ESA/L.Wellard