Travelling in the Solar System – The Challenges of Interplanetary Mission Operations

Date: 25 April 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Location: BIS HQ, Vauxhall and ONLINE
BIS Evening Lecture | BIS Events | In-Person | International | Online

Registration Now Closed


Title: Travelling in the Solar System  – The Challenges of Interplanetary Mission Operations

Speaker: Dott. Paolo Ferri – Former Head of ESA Mission Operations

Date/Time: Thursday 25 April 2024, 1900BST

Venue:  BIS Headquarters, 27/29 South Lambeth Road, Vauxhall, London, SW8 1SZ and Online

Abstract: Operating a robotic spacecraft that travels in deep space across the Solar System is very different from operating a spacecraft in Earth orbit: it requires special infrastructures, techniques and expertise. Interplanetary missions have to deal with extremely large distances to Earth and variable distances to the Sun, which significantly impacts the space-ground communications and the thermal and power constraints. The long signal propagation delays impose a high level of on-board autonomy, which has to be managed carefully through the highly variable conditions the spacecraft encounters during its journey. The long duration of the missions require high flexibility in the on-board design and in the ground tools, to be able to adapt to the different missions phases, but also to irreversible failures and degradations in the on-board hardware.

This talk will describe the challenges of interplanetary flight from the point of view of the mission operations, illustrated through real-life experiences and examples taken from many ESA missions in the Solar System of the last two decades.


Biography: Paolo is a theoretical physicist who worked for his entire career at the European Space Agency in the field of mission operations. He supported a variety of scientific missions, such as ExoSat, Eureca, Cluster, Rosetta, Mars Express, Venus Express, ExoMars and BepiColombo.

From 2006 he was Head of the Solar and Planetary Missions Division, then moving up in 2013 to Head of the Mission Operations Department, in charge of ground segment and mission operations preparation and execution for all ESA robotic space missions. Over a period of 20 years, from 1996 to 2016, he created and led the operations team of Rosetta, the first historical space mission to rendezvous with and land on a comet.

Paolo is member of the BIS, of the International Academy of Astronautics and Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Since his retirement from ESA in 2021 he supports educational and training activities in the field of space science and technology.