Friday 3 June 2016

It's results day!

Tune in to the live press conference with the LPF science team on 7th June 2016 to hear all about the results of the mission! 

Then, ask them anything via Reddit, see below:

Friday 12 February 2016

Gravitational Waves exist!

Well, we couldn't have asked for better news. Following hot on the heels of the successful launch of LPF, confirmation that gravitational waves really do exist! 

The direct detection made by LIGO is truly groundbreaking and lends weight to the cause for development of a space based gravitational wave detector. 

Read more here:

Monday 14 December 2015

Interview with the Launch Site Range Operations Manager

We've all heard the authoritative voice, the final countdown, 10, 9, 8... But have you like me ever wondered who is the person behind those famous last lines we all hear during the launch of a rocket into Space. Well if you have, here is your chance to meet the DDO for LISA Pathfinder, Jon Harr of CNES and The Guiana Space Centre, I caught up with him just after the successful launch of LPF to find out more about the countdown and his role. 

1.      Tell me a bit about yourself, name, age, where you are from and job title…


Name Jon Harr, Age 42, from Oslo, Norway, job title Range Operations Director (DDO). I am Norwegian, but moved to France in 1998 to do my M.Sc. Telecom Engineering internship at the French Space Agency CNES in Toulouse. Since then, I have been working with CNES on various spacecraft missions, only interrupted by an academical gap year to do an MBA. In 2010, I moved to French Guiana and took on a position as a Range Mission Manager, managing radar and telemetry systems on the range. In 2013 I became part of the DDO team and did my first launch as a DDO in Oct 2014 after 11 months of training. This was an Ariane 5 launch.  


2.       What is the role of the DDO?


The DDO is as the title indicates the manager for all the launch campaign operations on the range. Roughly, these can be divided into 3 parts :

-          Management of the spacecraft preparation campaign, up to the start of the combined operations.

-          Management of the range preparations for the launch. This includes all the systems that are used during the countdown and tracking mission :

o   telemetry stations and processing means

o   radars and positioning systems

o   flight safety systems

o   security systems

o   energy, air condition and logistics

o   telecom links

o   time synchronization

o   video systems

o   meteorological measurement systems

-          Countdown operations during general rehearsal and D0. Real time management of all systems + communications/PR, safety, security, configuration management, Quality, etc.

As you can see the DDO has quite la lot of responsibility. We often compare the DDO role with the conductor of an orchestra. He ensures that everyone works in the right pace and on the right task so that the big machine that is the range will operate flawlessly. But of course, there are often problems and the DDO also manages real time problem solving when necessary.


3.       What is the most nerve wracking part of the final chronology for DDO?

Is definitely the last hour of the count-down.  Especially when there is no launch window as was the case for LISA Pathfinder. In this case all systems must be “green” at one specific moment, or we cannot launch. There is a lot of pressure, and not a lot of time to sole anomalies when they occur.  


4.       When preparing the range for a launch, what things do you have to consider? 

First of all, we have to make sure that flight safety has a good visibility of the launcher by positioning radars and telemetry antennas during all the critical phases of the flight. This is especially true during first 10 mins when the launcher is still low and close to inhabited areas. 

Next, we need to make sure that there are telemetry stations in the right positions on the globe so that important flight events can be spotted and recorded via the launcher telemetry. This can sometimes be quite difficult, and we even have to make use of a naval station (basically a boat with an antenna) from time to time. We also hook up our telemetry kit to antennas in very different countries, from Kenya and Gabon, to Australia, South Korea, Canada, Bermuda and Hawaii.

Finally, ensuring that the launcher and flight safety weather criteria are respected. The launcher itself is quite robust, and mostly sensitive to lightning strikes. However, we also have flight safety constraints, especially on the ground and high altitude winds. Luckily, we have very a highly competent team of meteorologists on the range to help us conduct the weather predictions.  


5.       What safe guards are in place on the day of the launch in case of a problem after lift-off?

CNES has delegation from the French authorities to assure the safety of people, property and environment for every launch. After lift-off, this task is handled by the Flight Safety team, who has a constant real-time visibility of the launcher on-board parameters and trajectory. If a problem occurs after lift-off, flight safety will immediately detect it and have the possibility to neutralize the launcher if exists the flight corridor and becomes dangerous. The safety limits are computed for each launch in such a way as to avoid any risk for populated areas.


6.       What is the most interesting part of your role as a DDO (which part do you enjoy the most?)

The part I enjoy the most is the countdown operations. This is when you as a DDO can enjoy the results of the hard work laid down. A smooth countdown is the fruit of thousands of hours of work by several hundred people for weeks and sometimes months, and seeing everything go like clockwork is associated with much joy for me.


7.       What is the most difficult part of your role as DDO (is there anything you don’t enjoy?)

The hardest part is probable to manage the high stress level and long working hours over a fairly long time prior to the each launch. Sometimes I almost don’t see my family for several days in a row and it is hard in the end to stay alert manage all the different activities in parallel. 


8.       How many times have you acted as DDO for a launch?  Do you have a special way to prepare personally?

LISA Pathfinder on VV06 was my 3rd launch as a DDO. In addition, I have been DDO deputy many times, both during training and now that I am qualified.


9.  When you were young, what did you want to be “when you grew up” ?

I had no particular ambition, but I remember being very fascinated by technology and of course space. My mum took me to see the 2001 Space Odyssey when I was 6. It scared me a lot, but left a long lasting impression of fascination and wonder. 


10.  Who has inspired you most?  Who would you most like to meet?

Like most of my colleagues in the space business, I’ve always been very fascinated by the Apollo missions. I guess meeting one of those pioneer astronauts would rank highly.


11.   What advice would you give to young people in school today who are interested in working in the Space business?

That it’s a long and winding road, and thus important not to have too high expectations too early. Space programs are extremely long and complicated, and our working days are most of the time not very spectacular. But if you have the ability to experience joy from collective victories, and if you have the patience to work hard for many years to get there, then the sense of meaning you will get from accomplishing a space project is highly rewarding. At least it has been for me. 


12.   What will you be doing after VV06?

Sleep, spend time with my kids, kitesurf, play the guitar and, after x-mas, start the preparations for my next launch campaign.

Thanks Jon, great talking with you.

Jon Harr, LPF DDO centre of the action during the LPF launch on 2 & 3 December 2015

Wednesday 2 December 2015

It's Launch Day!!!

After a slight delay yesterday LISA Pathfinder launch countdown officially got underway his afternoon at 17:00 GMT.

The team are now in the midst of what will be a long night ahead hopefully culminating in a sucessful launch at 01:04 GMT on 3rd December 2015.

So what happens during the countdown?

The countdown for LPF is around 11 hours.  To begin with it is relatively quiet, the electrical spacecraft team arrive at the spacecraft control room and begin powering up the spacecraft control centre, similar activities happen in the launcher control room (all physically separate places).  Then the main control room for the mission comes online around 8 hours prior to the launch time.

Of couse around the world at both the main mission control centre in Europe and at the various tracking stations around the globe people will be taking their seats for their part in the LPF story.

For the next few hours all efforts are concentrated on checking out the numerous interfaces, making sure communication between all parties is working, ensuring every contributing element is GO for launch.

Around 3 hours before the scheduled lift off, the mobile gantry is removed, revealing the launcher.

Finally, in the last 30minutes, the status of all elements will (hopefully) turn Green for GO!  

With a 1s launch window to target, all eyes will be focussed on the GO status in the final 15mins.  

Stay tuned tonight for live updates via twitter.  Follow events as they unfold during the final hours with me @vicki_lonnon

Want to watch the coverage of the launch live?  Tune in online at, live feed begins 20mins prior to to launch.

Google hangout with the Kourou team

If you missed the google hangout on monday you can watch it here

Saturday 28 November 2015

Gravity - your questions answered

Want to ask questions about gravity, want to talk to a Nobel prize winning physicist? Well then join the Google hangout with George Smoot and others on Monday 30th November

Thursday 26 November 2015

The final countdown... Part 3 D-9 and D-8

As a QA there are many exciting and interesting aspects of the campaign that I have to get involved in. Now the spacecraft is encapsulated in the fairing, you could be forgiven for thinking that my job here is done... not so fast!

I also have to act as a witness for the movements of the now fully encapsulated spacecraft (as I have nicknamed it, the egg, or more formally known as the PAC ).

This involves joining the convoy that will move the fairing with the spacecraft inside from the clean room to the Vega launch pad where it will be hoisted up to the top of the Vega rocket.  

Exciting stuff!  The 10km journey is made by road and took approximately 2.5hours, yes SLOW!  It has to be very slow in order to ensure that the fiaring arrives safely.  As this is a hazardous operation, everyone involved has to travel wearing the very fetching bright orange safety overalls which are both chemical and fie retardant to protect us in the event of an accident.  It is also necessary to carry a gas mask with us at all times.

Once at the launch pad, it is time to don hard hats and safety shoes as well ready for the lifting of the fairing from the truck, to the 39.4m platform within the Vega launch tower.  

Not sure orange is really my colour! 

Image Copyright ESA–Manuel Pedoussaut, 2015

LPF is transferred by road to the launch tower.

Image Copyright ESA–Manuel Pedoussaut, 2015
Up into the launch tower...

Image Copyright ESA–Manuel Pedoussaut, 2015