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Meet the Operations Manager for the Copernicus Ground Segment Production Service

15 December 2022

Franck Desbouillons is the Operations Manager for the Copernicus Ground Segment Production Service, which oversees the processing of Sentinel satellites’ instrument raw data, after their acquisition from the globally distributed antenna network used by the Copernicus Ground Segment Services.

Born in France, Franck holds an Engineering Degree in Biotechnology System Applications, from the University of Poitiers, France.

Franck joined ESA in 2007, as a System Architect for the Corporate IT Services, after working for several years in various industries, where he participated in the implementation and operation of system architectures supporting many corporate applications.

In 2014, Franck moved to the Earth Observation Directorate, joining the Copernicus Ground Segment team before the launch and start of operations of Sentinel-1 and -2.

 

ESA: How did your studies and initial work experience shape your decision to join ESA?

Franck: I was prepared by my Engineering Degree to design, implement, and operate large systems that support science applications - initially in the framework of biotechnology development and the pharmaceutical industry.

I worked for several years in an international environment for diverse industries (pharmaceutical, aerospace, automotive, services), where I had the opportunity to gain experience in large systems, data processing and dissemination. I learnt to manage the constraints of operating those large systems over many geographically distributed locations.

The opportunity to join ESA was a significant landmark in my career, where I could put my experience at the service of one of the most relevant science organisations in the world. For the last 8 years I had the opportunity to contribute to the Copernicus programme, which provides Earth monitoring data for a range of services, in particular covering land management, marine environments, atmosphere, emergency response, security and climate change.

Nonetheless, joining ESA has also made real one of my childhood dreams, namely to one day work for a space agency and live the space adventure in my day-to-day life.

It is a continuous great excitement to be a contributor to the operations of our amazing space-borne flying machines!

 

ESA: What does your role as Technical Officer of Production Services for Sentinel-1,-2 and-3 entail?

Franck: The Sentinel-1, -2 and -3 Production Services are a central part of the Copernicus Ground Segment, in which the satellite instrument raw data are processed and transformed into end-user products, such as images and data products relevant to the Copernicus services and the more general user community. Products are formatted and documented for many different types of use. 

To this aim, the Production Services operates complex sets of algorithms called Instrument Processing Facilities (IPFs), that are orchestrated within a large system, constituted of numerous pieces of software and hardware.

The system is highly optimised to deliver the required level of performance, particularly in terms of resilience, supporting strict timeliness and completeness of the products delivery. The data flow volume from the Copernicus Sentinel constellations is huge and continuous – for the seven satellites there are every day an average of 5 TB of downlinked instrument data, which are processed into 33 TB of data user products, continuously disseminated to the user data access!

As a Technical Officer, I am responsible for the successful implementation of ESA’s technical and functional requirements by the Production Services, during the lifetime of the corresponding contracts. I act as the main ESA point of contact with the industrial consortia that were selected to deliver the service, while overlooking and validating the correct, complete delivery and performance of the service. 

This requires strong integration, on one side with ESA’s operations and the user representatives’ side, dealing with requirement definition and fulfilment, feedback on delivery and so on, and on the other side with the industrial consortia involved, by giving support in providing all useful documentation, clarifications and data access to the experts involved in the production validation.

The delivery of a stable and well performing service requires constant interaction with all sides, so that no requests or issues are unprocessed or kept unresolved. The overall service is a very dynamic environment which must absorb constant changes, upgrades, incident fixing, and continuous improvement. We never, ever get bored!

 

ESA: What are the challenges and successes of managing such a vast Programme?

Franck: The initial phase - when the new consortia had to take over the Production Service from the legacy ground segment services, which were structured differently - was very delicate. The handover of the technological aspects, operational needs and approaches, and the organisational knowledge has also been a bit of a challenge, given the limited timeframe to make it happen.

Still, the transfer has been very successful, with absolutely no impact on the quality of the service during the transition period which has been fully transparent to the Copernicus users and community - though it has required steady and transversal effort.

We are currently working at making as smooth as possible the future transitions of the services (and not only for Production Services), between incumbents and new stakeholders, so that future tenders for the service raise the interest of as many interested consortia as possible. This further improves the cost aspects for the Copernicus Programme – more stakeholders, more competition, and better spending management for ESA and the EU.

The other challenge I would mention is the technological one, as the Production Services fully transitioned to public cloud services and to the exclusive use of internet for circulating data.

There are no longer any physical, owned infrastructure nor dedicated connections. Thanks to the skills of the industrials involved, to the improved choice and quality of the cloud service operators, and to the reliability of modern internet with respect to bandwidth and stability, this transition also went without particular issues or regression, bringing instead a notable and welcomed flexibility in reconfiguring the services or its sizing, whenever needed.

 

ESA: Any last thought on your overall experience?

Franck: It is indeed very stimulating to work at ESA, in the environment of the Copernicus Programme. It is very dynamic - new things happening every day is the rule - with several new Sentinel missions to come, which will be added to existing ones.

Also, the programme attracts the interest and the skills of many industries, including new players in this field, so there is a broad, qualified and intense community involved, not even mentioning all the science and engineering community ‘downstream’ of the Production Service, which is really vibrant - as seen at the Living Planet Symposium in Bonn in 2022.

It is also a great motivation and challenge to have the opportunity to contribute to services that benefit the whole community. It raises the personal challenge; when critical applications are at stake, such as emergencies response, security and climate change.

This pushes one’s responsibility, dedication, and personal commitment to fully achieving the expectations and objectives of the project and the role.  

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