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.